Missy Parkin is one of the top professional bowlers currently competing in many of the big-name tournaments. A very competitive and passionate bowler, Parkin shares her experiences being a woman bowler during a time when the sport is mostly dominated by men in her article “From the Other Side.” It’s a very inspirational story, with messages we can all relate to and learn from.
From the Other Side
by Missy Parkin
I began bowling at the very young age of two-and-a-half. I grew up in a definite bowling family, with my father, Frank Bellinder, being a professional bowler and owning a pro shop. Needless to say, I was always in or around a bowling center and that didn’t bother me one bit. Most people don’t know that I have two older sisters, both of whom bowled, but never decided to take it seriously. I, on the other hand, had an absolute obsession with the sport.
I vividly remember being in first grade and my teacher asking me, “Melissa, what do you want to be when you grow up?” (Yes, my full name is Melissa.) My response never changed throughout my entire life – “A professional bowler!”
The road to becoming a professional bowler, as hard as that already is, became suddenly a lot harder with the demise of the Professional Women’s Bowling Association, or PWBA. Throughout my early years, my parents instilled a great importance on education. I was an honor student in high school, graduating with over a 4.0 GPA and not once ever thought of not going to college.
My plan was simple – go to college, get a good education and then go out full-time on the women’s professional bowling tour. Those dreams shattered suddenly and at the worst possible time.
All was going according to plan…I bowled collegiately for California State University, Fullerton. I had a successful collegiate bowling career, breaking a few records by anchoring our men’s team to a near top-two TV show appearance, finishing in fourth place overall. I was voted the Men’s Most Valuable Player and to the Men’s All-Tournament Team at the Intercollegiate Bowling Championships against the likes of Sean Rash from Wichita State, Bill O’Neill from Saginaw Valley and Ronnie Russell from Vincennes University. That same year I was also named Women’s Collegiate Bowler of the Year and Most Valuable Player. All the while, I competed as an amateur in PWBA regional, national and major tournaments as well as the Las Vegas Megabuck tournaments. Despite my constant travel, I still managed to focus on my education, graduating Summa Cum Laude from CSU, Fullerton with a 3.9 GPA.
In the fall of 2003 the PWBA suddenly and abruptly folded and my lifelong dream of going out on the women’s professional bowling tour vanished before my eyes. It was during my final semester of college, in the spring of 2004, that the PBA (Professional Bowlers Tour) decided to open up its membership to women. I, with no other choice to compete at the professional level, jumped at the opportunity and submitted my resume for PBA membership, losing my amateur status but also becoming the first woman to ever join the PBA.
Many people doubted my decision, namely because I had no experience competing against the professional women full-time, but that didn’t stop me. I worked harder, bowled more and definitely had my fair share of disappointments, but it all made me stronger in the end.
I always like telling this story because I think it makes the younger up-and-comers realize that we all, Walter Ray Williams, Jr., Pete Weber, Kelly Kulick and myself included, go through a rough patch in the beginning.
I bowled my very first PBA Regional tournament in Indio, CA at Fantasy Springs Lanes. It was the first weekend after the PBA opened up its membership to women, so there was A LOT of media attention and hype with me competing in that tournament.
Now, I was not intimidated or scared at all. I had great success at both the junior and collegiate levels. I had experience bowling against guys. So I thought I
was well prepared and that I’d go out and win my first tournament, since that is exactly what I had done my first junior tournament competing solely against the guys. Well, that is not quite how the tournament went. I will never forget that in that first tournament, mind you the PBA had a strict no-coaching rule then, I shot -113, got my head beat against a wall and finished toward the bottom of the field.
I spent a couple of years, not months, getting used to the patterns, making the correct moves, using the correct equipment, working on my game and learning how to line up off of the guys, before I consistently began cashing at PBA regionals. Throughout this time, I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and talk with the top regional or touring pros and ask what I should have done or what might have worked.
Of course, some were happy to see me fail, but many were very supportive, especially my fellow bowlers. I was treated with respect and as an equal and my gender never posed a problem.
The next year, I won my first PBA regional title in a sold-out field of 120 bowlers, defeating PBA national champion Michael Haugen, Jr. A few months later I made my very first TV show at the U.S. Women’s Open, defeating Kelly Kulick and then losing to Liz Johnson in the semifinals. Shortly after that, I won my second PBA Regional title in another sold-out, star-studded regional field, beating all national PBA titlists in the finals and becoming the first woman to win two PBA regional titles.
Breaking through and winning not only one, but two, PBA regional titles, as well as making my first TV show, a scene I had played over and over in my head for years, really made me feel that I belonged on that stage and that I would find a way to make my dreams come true. That was the same year the PBA Women’s Series emerged. It was the first time I really got to experience tour life, even if we only had four stops the first season.
During the PBA Women’s Series, the top 16 women who made the mini tour all qualified, traveled and shared the PBA workout tables, paddock, etc., right alongside the men. I heard many of the old PWBA women complaining that the PBA Women’s Series wasn’t a tour, but to me it was everything. I loved traveling from city to city, loved getting to know the guys better and, above all, learn from them. I loved the opportunity to simply be around the best in the world and feel like I was finally “on tour.”
Even though the PBA Women’s Series only lasted for three years I cherished every moment of that time, qualifying for the exclusive exempt field every year. I continued to bowl anything and everything: regional tournaments, PBA National tour stops, overseas tournaments, and that’s what I continue to do to this day.
There is a place for women professional bowling. There is a venue to showcase your talent. Hopefully others see this opportunity and fight for their dreams, much like I have. If you want it bad enough, you’ll go to any length to see your dreams come true.
Also, the Sports Schmucks interviewed Missy, so please do check it out! It’s a great interview! Missy Parkin interview