Oklahoma bowler beats odds to return to USBC Open Championships

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LAS VEGAS - Bowlers participate in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships for many reasons. Some come in hoping to prove that they're the best by winning an event and earning one of the coveted Eagles. Others use the tournament as a fun excuse to take a vacation and do a little bowling with family and friends.

When Mark Ellis of Norman, Oklahoma, came to Las Vegas to bowl in the 2022 USBC Open Championships, he was making his 33rd consecutive appearance. Having participated in the event for more than three decades, Ellis, too, has had many different reasons for bowling.

Perhaps none were as important as his reason for bowling the tournament this year, however. This year, he bowled it because he was simply thankful that he still could.

Ellis suffered a stroke back in October of 2021, and that put more than just his Open Championships streak in jeopardy; it called into question whether or not he would ever bowl again.

With the love and support of his family, friends and fellow bowlers, Ellis recovered well enough to at least give the 2022 tournament a shot. Nevertheless, as he waited in the squad room prior to bowling his team event, he really wasn't sure what to expect this time around.

"I've bowled a few sets before coming out here, but not many," Ellis said. "But it's just about being here and being able to participate. Bowling is something that we can all do, and it's something that I've done for a long time with family and friends in a big group. It's just amazing to be here."

Ellis' words highlight one of the things that makes bowling so special to so many people; it tends to be a generational sport, one that is often passed down from parents to their children and grandchildren.

That's certainly been the case in the Ellis family as Mark started bowling the Open Championships with his father and grandfather. Now that they've moved on, the tradition continues as Mark's son, daughter and son-in-law have all been brought into the fold to join Mark and his best friend, Woody.

The desire to keep that tradition alive is part of what motivated Ellis to participate in the Open Championships again in 2022, and it's what is going to keep him coming back for as many years as he can.

"My bowling goals have had to change after going through all of this, but what makes it easier is having so many great people, family and friends, who support me and want me out here with them," Ellis said. "We always bring a really big group of people from Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere, and we're definitely coming back to bowl again next year."

However, Ellis' sights aren't just set on the 2023 event in Reno; he and his family are looking much further down the road.

"When I get to my 50th consecutive year, my daughter will be in her 30th, and my son and son-in-law will be in their 25th, so we've got big plans for that," Ellis said. "We aren't slowing down."

Anyone who knows Ellis shouldn't be surprised by that. After all, he's been competing and serving the sport of bowling for many years now.

Ellis has been president of the Oklahoma State USBC since 2015, and he's spent many years offering up his time and bowling knowledge to help high school bowlers throughout Oklahoma.

Ellis' contributions to the sport have not gone unnoticed; that is why he had so many people rooting for him and his return to the Open Championships, and it's why so many people have been inspired by his ability to do so.

"Mark has been volunteering for bowlers in Oklahoma for many, many years, so to hear about his stroke was heartbreaking," USBC Director of Associations and Membership Mike Larsen said. "It's inspirational to see him still servicing the sport, attending convention and now, bowling the Open Championships. It's just incredible."

It's hard to argue with that.

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