Chester Gilliam has been bowling since the beginning of bowling, but he didn’t invent it.
That’s all hyperbole, but you wouldn’t know it judging by his passion for the game or his accomplishments.
This month, Gilliam is being inducted into the Wyoming State United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.
It’s well deserved, according to current Rose City Lanes owner Rick Eades. Gilliam has been a staple in Lovell bowling and has been behind nearly every local success story for over the past 30 years.
Gilliam moved to Wyoming in 1983 and purchased Rose City Lanes, then named Lovell Lanes in 1985.
“I bowled on my first league in 1964. Long time ago,” Gilliam said. “When I first bowled, we had pin boys. We set up the pins ourselves.”
He still has yet to slow down, according to Eades.
“He still is. He still bowls every night. He’s been a strong advocate for the game of bowling all around forever and ever,” Eades said. “He’s very good with kids. He’s very good for the public. He always likes to see people bowl better.”
Gilliam has bowled 17 sanctioned 300 games, and has rolled three 800 series, averaging 267 or better across three games.
Eades has witnessed much of it personally.
“As far as awards go, he has everything you can win,” Eades said. “I’ve seen him pick up the seven-ten, which is unheard of. I watched him do it in Miles City. He’s been a state champion. He’s been a local association champion. He was the first person to bowl 300 in Lovell, the first person to bowl 800 in Lovell. He was the scratch doubles champion in the state in 1986,” Eades said. “He was Master Doubles champion in 1977. He’s been on numerous state teams. In 2016 he won the Senior High 5 championship.”
Gilliam doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
“I have a point to prove. Just because I’m old doesn’t mean you can beat me. I just got a big enough of an ego that when I go into a house, I want to kick his young butt. Just because I’m forty years older doesn’t mean you can beat me,” Gilliam said. “The younger guys have an advantage because they can throw the ball harder, their speed and turn gives them more pin carry, they don’t have to be quite as precise, quite as accurate, but you can always figure out a way to knock pins down.”
But Gilliam is special not just because of his talents in bowling but in the way he invests in other local bowlers. He still holds several mentees to this day.
“It’s just as much fun coaching and getting someone else to bowl better as it is going out and bowling yourself. I had one little girl here, little thing, she followed me around all the time and call me teacher.
I could not get her to roll the ball. She would stay at the foul line and throw the ball. I could not get her to roll it,” Gilliam said. “It took me three years, she finally did. I think she just saw everyone else do it and finally wanted to be like them.”
Gilliam brings brand new bowlers like that little girl under his wing and he also mentors bowlers bringing home trophies just like him.
“We’ve always had good bowlers here and that’s because I always encouraged them to bowl out of town,” Gilliam said. “You get better playing in other places.”
Gilliam recalls beginning to oversee the junior division when he took over the bowling alley decades ago.
“A lot of those kids are still bowling, and some of them are pretty dang good,” Gilliam said.
It’s been tougher lately, Gilliam said, because bowling just hasn’t had as much interest among the current young generation.
“It used to be we were holding two leagues a night, it was packed full. You couldn’t go up and say I want a spot on the league and get a spot,” Gilliam said. “It was jammed full.
“Now nobody that age is bowling. You don’t have the young folks coming in. It’s too hard to compete with the school sports.”
But both Gilliam and Eades believe bowling has a future. The fact that veterans like themselves are still bringing home trophies speaks to the fact that bowling is a game for everyone.
“I’ve seen blind people bowl,” Eades said. “It’s a game that anyone can play at any skill level and there’s no telling where you will end up.”
By Ryan Fitzmaurice