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Women's pro bowling championship to be held outdoors

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- If NHL hockey games can be staged outdoors in a baseball stadium and college basketball games on the deck of an aircraft carrier, why not throw bowling balls down the middle of the street in Reno?

While gamblers try to strike it rich at blackjack tables indoors, the U.S. Women's Open Championship finals are moving outdoors this summer along the main casino drag in a bid to boost interest, sponsors said Tuesday.

The title will be determined June 27 on temporary lanes beneath the arch that proclaims Reno the "Biggest Little City in the World," said Steve Johnson, executive director of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America.

A party zone will be set up and there will be fireworks, flyovers and a variety of other special attractions, he said.

"Not everyone in the world watches bowling on TV so we want them to come and watch and be part of the atmosphere," Johnson said. "We are going to throw a party and a bowling match is going to break out."

Johnson came up with the idea as a way to try to top last year's event, which drew a record crowd in excess of 6,000 to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Leanne Hulsenberg, who will be back to defend her title in Reno, beat top-seeded Kelly Kulick on those lanes set up next to the NFL team's big blue star on the 50-yard line.

"I would have to call Reno the bowling capitol of the world," Johnson said about the town that is home to the National Bowling Stadium and was the backdrop for the 1996 movie "Kingpin," starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid and Bill Murray.

"I said, `Let's shut down the street and bowl under the Reno arch, one of the most recognizable icons there is out there in America,"' he said.

The national stadium will host the qualifying rounds for the 300-plus competitors beginning June 21. Five finalists will qualify for the outdoor championship round on June 27, scheduled to air July 3 on ESPN2.

Anyone who bowls a perfect game in the finals would get $1 million.

So far, the response from the bowlers has been favorable. And while the phrase "gutter ball" will take on a whole new meaning, that's not much of a concern for some of the best competitors in the world.

"I've heard nothing but excitement in the field because we never have experienced anything like it," said Stefani Nation, a former world champion and top contender this season.

"It's exciting to see different sports out of their elements," she said. "From a bowler's perspective, it's no longer just a bowling tournament, it's truly an event."

NHL games have been held outdoors in recent years at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. North Carolina beat Michigan State in the first NCAA men's basketball game played on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier last November.

Johnson acknowledges there are skeptics.

"Trust me, they roll their eyes at me all the time," said Johnson, who worked as president of the CHAMP Car World Series (CART) and Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) before joining the bowling association in 2009.

"It's a major undertaking. It will probably take 36 straight hours to build the lanes. And it's not cheap," he said. "But I welcome eye-rolling and people who doubt and people who say you are stupid and you can't get it done."

A first-ever Senior U.S. Open champion will be crowned in a separate event that will be running in conjunction with the primary U.S. Open.