In this edition of "23 Questions", I had to pleasure to chat with and look at the career of Brenda Walters from Hamilton, Ontario.
Brenda finished her YBC career with a victory in the MBAO Bursary tournament, receiving a free year in the Masters. 21 years later, Brenda is still a stalwart on the tour, where she has amassed an amazing 15 Tournament wins! She has represented the MBAO at 17 Masters Nationals, 6 times as a Singles representative! In total, Brenda has 1Gold and 2 Bronze in the Singles, as well as 6 Team Gold, plus 2 more Silver and 1 Bronze with the Ladies team
She has also experienced incredible success at the O5PBA Open, where she will be competing for the 21st time this year. Brenda is a 4-time Ontario Singles Champion and has turned those into 3 National titles! She also has 4 Ladies Team wins in Ontario, which have resulted in 1 National Gold, and 2 Silvers.
In 2009, in front of hundreds of people, Brenda threw a perfect 450 game at the Ontario Open at Sherwood Centre in Hamilton.
She also has 4 TSN Pins Game appearances to her credit, and is an obvious member of the C5's "Century of Excellence" club. And when the O5PBA came out with their "Top 90" list 12 years ago, Brenda was ranked as Ontario's 9th best woman bowler. She's certainly leapfrogged a few people since!
Brenda thanks for doing this. How long did you bowl in the YBC?
11 years, I didn’t start playing until I was 8.
Do you recall what you averaged in each division?
I'm not sure about Bantam or Junior, but I think I was 215 in my final year of Senior.
Do you remember at what age your game REALLY improved?
My first year in adult leagues I averaged 250. I think I just started to focus a lot more.
And was there anyone then who helped you get there?
I had 1 coach throughout most of my Senior years in YBC who worked with me without trying to change my style. His name was Larry Bixby. He was someone who worked with your style to improve it, rather than make you change to fit the conventional style.
What is your current average? 253
What is the highest league average you've ever had? 268
You mentioned "conventional style" earlier. You are a right-handed bowler who throws off of your right foot. There are a number of other top players who also do this. Greg Peteraitis, Ron Coombs (left/left), Matt Innis, Dave Johnson and Connie D'Alessandro are just a few. Did this style come naturally to you, and did you have any coaches who ever tried to change you?
The style felt most comfortable for me. I did have one coach who tried to convince me to change. It was a few weeks before the 4 Steps Provincials. I was on the Junior Girls team and the regular coach couldn’t make a practice and asked someone else to fill in. The coach filling in didn’t like the bocce style and tried to get me to change during that practice.
Thankfully, you DIDN'T change!!
Now, to give our readers a look into your strategy on the lanes, what do you use for a target to line up your shot?
I use the arrows
Do you aim for a pocket, or just throw at the headpin?
I don’t aim for a specific pocket. I aim for a general area around the centre arrow. I have a 6-8 board area that if I hit it and finish the shot, I know I will hit the headpin in some form.
If you're experiencing a lot of HEADPINS, what is your first adjustment?
If I am picking a lot I usually try to make sure I am following through properly. If I get lazy with my follow through, the ball won’t move. I will also move left to right, and if nothing else works, I will change the type of ball I am throwing.
I'm glad that you mentioned that! Many people will start moving around the lane without fixing the cause of their problems. I think it's important to try to correct your shot BEFORE moving all over the place or you'll just struggle all day. You mentioned changing balls as a "last-ditch" adjustment. How many sets of balls do you have, and how many would you normally bring to a tournament?
I have a set of Scorpions that I have had for 20 years that I use 90% of the time. I also have a set of Paramounts and 1 Hard Roll that I use if I need to.
We've gotten a few interesting answers to this, so I'll pick your brain…If you need 16 points in the tenth frame, do you throw your normal first ball, or play thin, trying to ensure you don't "pick"?
I remember having a talk with Greg Peteraitis in one of my first few years out of YBC. I spoke about how uncomfortable I was in trying to change anything if I needed to throw a strike in the 10th frame. I told him I also just throw the same shot I was throwing the rest of the game, but I usually ended up picking or being heavy with the shot. He told me, in that situation; to try to throw the same shot I had thrown the whole game, but just a little "harder". He said if I do that, I will probably end up throwing the same speed I had been throwing. He believes that, under pressure, even though we try not to change the shot, subconsciously we do take a little of the shot because we are afraid to pick. So by trying to throw harder, you end up not changing anything. I have always remembered that and to this day, I still do it.
Well, needless to say, I think it's worked out pretty well for you!
You've obviously played in, and won, gazillion tournaments. Do you like to know where you stand during an event, or do you ignore the scoreboard and just try to play your game?
I always play my game, because no matter what I do, it's not going to change anything, but I am a board watcher. I love to know where I stand.
Doesn't watching the boards affect you? And are you the same way during a match?
90% of the time I know exactly what is going on during a match. I know my match, I know totals…everything. If anything, it seems to keep me focused.
Brenda, your ball is not that fast, but definitely has a heavy roll to it. Do you find that you have a disadvantage on "strings" compared to the freefall days, or does accuracy and rotation still have an edge over the flame-throwers?
I tend to leave a lot of corners no matter what the conditions. I am okay with that because I am confident about my pinning most of the time. I love freefall though. I find it evens things out. Regardless of the type of lane, I just focus on making sure I hit the head pin on my first shot, and spare whatever is left.
You've represented Southern Ontario on twenty-five occasions between Masters and The Open, including winning ELEVEN National Gold Medals…Can you share some of your most memorable moments with us?
They are all special! However the two that stand out the most are my Open singles win in 2001 and my Masters Team win in 2008. Both were in Hamilton and it's pretty special to win a national title in your home town.
Do any of your MBAO tournament victories stand out as extra-special?
My very first Masters win was the Rose Festival at Bowlarama Welland. I played against Claudina Sula in the finals. She was one of my idols.
You've won the Ladies Open Provincial Singles Championship an incredible FOUR times! Do you think that your first win gave you a big advantage in subsequent stepladders?
I don’t think so. Playing in front of so many people is always nerve racking, no matter how many times you have done it.
And with 8 Open titles to your credit, plus a perfect game at the Open, what is your favourite centre?
I had a hunch. Are there any other centres that you really enjoy visiting?
NEB'S, or any freefall house
And take us through the 10th frame of your 450, what was it like in front of all those people?
I didn’t really notice how many people were behind the lanes until after I threw the first strike in 10. That’s when I noticed the change in noise level. It was an amazing feeling.
Are there any current players who have helped to influence your own game?
Quite a few have. Connie Ward taught me its okay to adjust and to make sure you have backup lines to throw if things aren’t going well. Dianne Violini, just through her actions, has taught me to always be gracious in defeat as well as winner, and also that you don’t have to throw hard to be successful.
Which current players do you enjoy watching?
Connie Ward, Jeff Young, Jodi Craig, Erica Bortolin, Jim Head.
Brenda, those of us who know you understand that you are funny and witty, but on the lanes you are stoic and show very little outward emotion. Is this by design or just an extension of your personality?
It's just an extension of my personality.
Has anyone (that you know of, at least) ever taken your laid-back disposition the "wrong way"? Your body language rarely changes, even when you experience success. We know better, but I wonder if some could misconstrue it as "ho-hum" or that you "expect" to win?
I’m sure it has been taken the wrong way, but if people don’t take the time to know me and realize that it is not meant that way at all, there is nothing I can do to change their perception.
You've been able to travel the country and experience 5-Pin from coast-to-coast…What is your favourite thing about our game?
I would say meeting competitors from across Canada. Seeing the different styles and knowing that everyone, no matter what limitations you may have, can play this game at some level.
And are there major differences in conditions from province to province?
I think every province dresses their lanes differently. I find the lanes out west to be a lot faster than those we play in Ontario, with a few exceptions.
Does anything concern you about our game?
The dwindling numbers in YBC. That is the future of the game, and we need to change how the game is perceived and make it fun again.
Are there any specific changes you'd like to see?
I know that it is easier said than done, but more promotion and getting more kids involved.
And finally, what piece of advice might you give to a younger or inexperienced bowler who wants to improve their game?
Practice. Make sure you find someone who you trust as a coach and ask them to work with you. And be willing to listen to what they say.
Well said, Brenda.
We thank you for your time!