Tracing the history of professional bowling in America from its glory days in the 1950s and 1960s to its near extinction by the late 1990s, A LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN follows the fate of the newly modernized Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) and four pro bowlers as they compete on tour.
Professional bowling once occupied an honorable place in the pantheon of American sports. Beginning in 1962, millions of Americans tuned in to ABC-TV each Saturday afternoon to watch the stars of the PBA knock down sets of pins with precision and grace. But by 1997, when ABC pulled the plug on its sagging bowling broadcast, American sports fans and corporate sponsors had all but abandoned the sport and its portly, middlebrow image.
(L-R) New PBA owners Rob Glaser,
Chris Peters and Mike Slade
A LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN chronicles what happened after three former Microsoft executives bought the PBA for five million dollars in 2000, rescuing it from near bankruptcy and hiring tough-talking former Nike executive Steve Miller to transform the league and make sports stars out of its bowlers.
“I think that America, in terms of its vision of sport, has gone through an extraordinary change. It changed athletically. It changed emotionally. It changed socially. It changed spiritually. It changed in every possible way,” said Miller. “And bowling… was left in the Father Knows Best days. It wasn’t a part of the American sports scene.“
A LEAGUE OF ORDINARY GENTLEMEN follows Miller as he attempts to draw fans and new sponsors to the sport. It also follows four professional players on the tour: Walter Ray Williams, Jr., a congenial horseshoe champ; Pete Weber, a bad boy hoping to emerge from the shadow of his bowling legend father; Chris Barnes, an up-and-comer balancing sports and family; and Wayne Webb, a veteran bowler looking for one last chance. The film also explores why bowling—once a favorite sport of U.S. presidents—fell so far out of fashion.
In documenting the decline and potential revival of pro bowling, filmmakers Chris and Alex Browne and Bill Bryan spent time with players and executives in their homes, cars and RVs, in motels and diners, and in bowling alleys across America. The result, both poignant and funny, provides an intimate account of the lives of today’s best bowlers, the tensions that arise on the lanes and in the PBA boardroom and the grit and determination of those whose futures are tied to the sport of bowling.
Meet the bowlers featured in the film >>
Go bowling through the decades >>
Read the filmmaker Q&A >>
Top photos L-R:
Chris Barnes with his wife Lynda and their twins
Walter Ray Williams, Jr. takes a turn
Pete Weber makes a strike