Ann Killion
Thursday January 28th, 2010

Kelly Kulick's favorite movie is A League of Their Own.

But if she was rewriting the script, the Rockford Peaches would end up beating the New York Yankees. In October.

On Sunday, Kulick became the first woman bowler to win a PBA Tour title, with her victory over Chris Barnes at the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas. Not only did Kulick's victory come over the man she calls "the best bowler in the world" it also came in one of the tour's four majors.

And suddenly the Union, N.J., native doesn't have a minute to spare.

"My phone doesn't stop ringing," Kulick said.

Any time women compete against men uproar ensues (just ask Annika Sorenstam or Danica Patrick). A woman actually beating a man results in cultural convulsions, which Kulick has felt this week.

Even Billie Jean King -- the original female victor in the Battle of the Sexes -- was compelled to issue a statement.

"Kelly Kulick's win ... is not only historic, it serves as a motivational and inspirational event for girls and women competing at all levels all around the world," said the founder of the Women's Sports Foundation.

The upside of all the attention is that Kulick may have a platform to get women bowlers -- you guessed it -- a league of their own.

"This may be the spark to ignite things," Kulick said. "Maybe we'll get a second chance."

The Professional Women's Bowling Association folded in 2003. Kulick, who turned pro in 2001 after being a three-time All-America bowler at Morehead State, had been the rookie of the year and had won the women's U.S. Open in 2003. And then she was left leagueless.

"I believed the league would come back, so I tried to stay sharp in men's events," she said. "I stayed sharp. But it never came back."

Kulick started bowling when she was 5-years old, as a pleasant Saturday diversion that included lunch at the lanes with her mother, Carol. But by fifth grade she declared in her yearbook that she wanted to be a professional bowler. And by high school she quit the varsity basketball team to concentrate on bowling.

The sport has let her see the world and earn an income. When she isn't bowling, Kulick works part time in her father's auto body shop. Though she used to do some bodywork -- "just bumpers and stuff -- things most people can do" -- she now primarily does clerical work.

Three years after the PWBA folded, Kulick became the first woman to earn a PBA tour exemption. Until last weekend, that was her biggest claim to fame. Well, that and the novelty of being featured as a bowling heroine in a Spider-Man comic book (she once bowled with the daughter of the comic book writer).

Kulick said the adjustment to bowling with men wasn't difficult.

"I was accepted, and very well respected," she said. "But I wasn't a threat."

Kulick made two or three cuts and felt the attitude of her male competitors was, "we'll just let her struggle."

But now, after her sport-rattling victory, she has a two-year exemption on the PBA. (A few years ago, a documentary on the PBA Tour was released, entitled, A League of Ordinary Gentlemen. Maybe they'll need to change that title.)

Kulick is enjoying her new celebrity, but her main goal is to see the women's game improved. A limited women's series was launched in 2007, but it only includes seven events.

"We've progressively been trying to bring back a full league," she said. "I don't want to bowl against men. We need our own league."

What happened last week in Las Vegas might just be a catalyst, not only for a women's league but also for more sponsorship and visibility for the entire sport.

"The industry is kind of tapped," Kulick said. "There's just foam at the end of the beer keg."

But maybe some corporate angel will notice this bumper-fixing, beer-keg-analogy-using, comic book heroine who just won her own battle of the sexes.

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