Goal of becoming a pro bowler realized by Bob Tompos

Once upon a time – a long time before he had a family, fought fires and saved lives – Bob Tompos lived to bowl.

Born into a family of bowlers, Tompos learned the sport at age 2 in Southwest Detroit, competed in youth leagues and practiced as often as he could. He usually had the high game or series in the league and bowled well in tournaments.

At one point, he even acquired enough pins from friends that owned Beacon Lanes in Detroit and used them to set up an alley at his family’s cottage in Bald Eagle Township.

When he turned 16 and got his driver’s license, Tompos bowled all over place: at Beacon, Clark Bowl and Springwells Lanes in Detroit, at Hazel Park Lanes, at Wildwood Lanes in Southgate, at Thunderbowl in Allen Park and at Taylor Lanes.

A multi-sport athlete, he eventually gave up other sports in high school to concentrate on bowling. By age 18, he was averaging 195 and was certified to coach youth bowlers. He ran three house leagues in exchange for free practice time. He could make spending money bowling in tournaments.

“As long as I was bowling, I was happy,” Tompos said. “It fulfilled my competitive interests.”

Tompos was inspired by the professional bowlers of the day. He watched “Beat the Champ” and the “Pro Bowlers Tour” on television. At the time, the top prize may have been $4,000 for winning a tournament – considered “huge money.”

“I liked that you could make a living at it and the excitement of it,” Tompos said. “They were on television before big crowds. The ham in you comes out. I said, ‘One day I’m going to do that.’”

But soon, Tompos had to get “serious” about what he wanted to do with his life and he accepted a job in pharmaceutical sales with Long Island-based Pharmafair. His sales territory was Michigan and neighboring states and the travel virtually eliminated the time he needed to excel in bowling.

By age 22, he was married with three children. He had to support his family. His dream of becoming a pro bowler had passed by.

“It got to a point where it wasn’t going to happen any more,” Tompos said.

And yet… “It’s going to sound corny, but when I was 23 or 24 years old, I promised myself that if I got to a point later in life – if things settled down – I would go back to bowling and go back to senior events.”

The sales job lasted 12 years.

“Once in awhile, I would pick up a house ball and house shoes,” he said. “I figured it would be great to try this again. But my schedule never allowed for it.”

Tompos got divorced and then married again, to his current wife Phyllis. He decided to get into public service and, in his mid-30s, studied to be an emergency medical technician. He worked for Community EMS and studied to get his specialist license, became a paramedic and then an instructor.

For years, Tompos never told his wife about his love of bowling.

“I never brought it up,” he said. “I never watched it, never talked about it. I told her I used to bowl a lot, but never let on how much a part of my life it was. It was kind of funny because every time we’d get together with my family, they’d say, ‘Hey, Uncle Bobby, you bowling again?’ Phyllis never realized how important it had been to me.”

After nine years at Community EMS, Tompos decided to go to the fire academy and become a firefighter.

“At age 42, I figured if I was going to make one more career change, I had to make it quick. I took a shot at it. If I didn’t make it, it wasn’t going to bother me because I was happy doing the job I was doing.”

It worked out. Tompos was hired by the Taylor Fire Department. He was one of the oldest rookies ever hired by a fire department in Wayne County.

“It either proves that I don’t give up on stuff or I’m a little bit slower than everyone else,” he laughed.

Tompos’ experience as an EMT helped and he advanced quickly through the ranks of the young department. Today, he is battalion chief for EMS.

One benefit of being a firefighter is that the regular hours left time for Tompos to pursue hobbies, or, in his case, his true passion: bowling.

In 2000, Tompos, at age 47, announced to his wife that he was going to work on getting his pro bowlers card.

As Tompos remembers, “After she quit laughing, she said, ‘How good were you?’ I told her I didn’t want to be sitting on a porch in Florida in 25 years regretting I never did it. She was very understanding and said, ‘If this is what you want to do, give it a shot.’ It was nice to have her support.”

Tompos went to Taylor Lanes on his lunch hour and ran into Lou Ivancik, a local pro who had helped him in the 1970s. They went into the Bowlers Paddock pro shop and ordered Tompos a new ball.

“I didn’t have any equipment – I had nothing,” Tompos said. “All of the equipment had changed. The whole game had changed.”

The lanes were not like they were back in the day. Urethane was just coming out and lanes were oiled differently. Ivancik explained the many changes in bowling balls, which had different covers, weight blocks and finger spans. Balls also had doubled in price.

Tompos started practicing regularly at Taylor Lanes. On his day off, he would bowl at TenPin Alley in the Irish Hills. He discovered that the Pro Bowlers Tour television show had moved from ABC to ESPN and he started watching again.

“Instead of watching Dick Weber, I watched Pete Weber,” Tompos said.

In 2002, he joined a Taylor Lanes summer league with “pro conditions,” meaning the lanes were similar to pro patterns. He averaged 184 the first year back.

Tompos was hooked all over again. Since he was off on Fridays, he joined a Friday morning men’s league and then a Tuesday night league.

He took lessons from Alita Sill, the first female professional to win $1 million, at Country Lanes in Farmington Hills. She picked up some flaws, corrected his game, and gave him some things to work on.

That was the turning point. In the 2004-05 season, his average climbed from the 194 to 210.

Tompos challenged himself further by joining a Tuesday night professional condition league at Taylor Lanes. On Monday nights, he joined Mark Robey’s “Survivor Bowling League” in which bowlers go head to head, seeking to survive against one another at Skore Lanes.

“They change lane conditions every three weeks,” he said. “One week, they’ll be flooded, and the next week, they’ll be so dry you can’t keep the ball on the lane.”

He bowled in tournaments. He might bowl in Westland one week, Rochester Hills the next.

After averaging 208 during the last season, Tompos finally met the qualifications for achieving his pro bowlers card: two consecutive years with a 200 or better average. At age 51 – about three decades after putting his dream on hold – he applied for the card. And on February 6, 2006, it arrived in the mail. Reading the accompanying letter of acceptance, he admitted, “was pretty emotional.”

This month, Tompos expects to bowl in his first regional event on the Pro Bowlers Tour: a national PBA tournament in October at Taylor Lanes.

“It will be my first tournament with my pro card,” he said. “I’ll get to measure myself against guys out there competing on those lane conditions. After that, I’ll reassess and determine how much work I need to go further. Maybe I’ll arrange more lessons with Alita.”

Tompos is fulfilling “something I dreamt about when I was young. The first tournament will do that. Anything else will be gravy.”

These days, Tompos has 10 bowling balls. He practices just as hard.

“I can’t wait to get out there and beat those guys,” he said. “The thing I have to remember is that, in reality, I’m pretty new to the sport. I consider myself a five-year bowler. I know I have a lot of work to do yet. In the next five years, I will put the mental and physical games together. I plan on winning a tournament.

“It’s not about the money; it’s about the competition. The money would be nice, but it’s the competition and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”

Tompos’ achievements have the respect of his fellow Taylor firefighters every day.

“Bob has done an exceptional job for the department running our EMS Division,” said Fire Chief Vince Fedel. “He is responsible for all aspects of our EMS service delivery and answers to a board of emergency physicians regarding our department’s EMS operations.

“I was surprised to learn that Bob was such an accomplished bowler. He has been so modest about his abilities. I too, my sons to watch him at a tournament last year and couldn’t believe how good he is. I wish him the best him the best in his professional bowling endeavor, but also look forward to him being at work for some time to come.”

Tompos’ message for others with a dream? “Try not to leave anything out there that you thought you could have done if you gave it more effort,” he said. “I didn’t want to have regrets later.

“When I was young, I thought it was going to be my career. Now I know I can do it and enjoy it and still have a real job I can go to. I can enjoy it and know it will fulfill what I wanted to do when I was younger.

“I don’t have to make a living at it. I love my job. It’s important.

“I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.”