There is a spot on his shoe that Bill Lillard of Chicago will remember as long as he lives. He was gazing at it, afraid to look up, when Veteran Joe Wilman rolled the final ball of the 1955-56 All-Star tournament. In the 64th game of racking competition, the U.S. championship rested on that one ball. Never before in the All-Star's 15-year history had a final match been so closely or so brilliantly contested. Never had both finalists deserved victory more. Lillard, 28, at the peak of a glittering career, and Wilman, on the eve of his 50th birthday, holder of every major bowling title at one time or another (including the All-Star in 1945), battled through tense frame after frame without yielding a pin. The incredible finish came just before midnight last Sunday.
Wilman, bowling steadily, had led the 16-man field through most of the four-day finals and appeared to have an insurmountable edge by Sunday morning. Lillard, far behind in the early stages and fifth on Saturday afternoon, catapulted into second place Saturday night with a four-game series of 861. Then, on Sunday, he hacked away at Wilman's lead by scoring 924, highest series of the tournament, and followed it up with a commendable 863. Going into the last match with Wilman he was only 16 pins behind.
THE INWARD STRAIN
Lillard opened with 203 to Wilman's 180 to take first place for the first time. In the second game, amid roars that shook the old coliseum, young Lillard struck out for 256, only to have Wilman get home in 288 and regain first place with two games to go.
December 26, 1955
Wilman's lead was short-lived. He had appeared cool and unconcerned while striving for his 300, but the inward strain he must have felt took its toll. He collapsed to 179. Lillard registered 222 to take a Petersen Point System edge of 1.18. Under this scoring system one point is awarded for each 50 pins knocked down and for each game won. Thus, Wilman had to win the final game by 18 pins to tie and 19 to win the championship.
In the second frame Lillard got an amazing break. He had left the 3-10 "baby split" and, in trying to convert the spare, brushed past the three-pin. The tenpin, however, kicked back onto the alley and toppled it. Wilman got two strikes, but from the fourth frame on it was clear both men were pressing. Lillard, whose wide sweeping hook is one of the most powerful balls in the game, began hitting the head-pin high and narrowly escaped several splits. Wilman, who rolls a slight hook with medium speed, depending more upon accuracy than power, also was far off the pocket.
Halfway through the game Wilman had picked up the 18 pins he needed and led by three. When Lillard ran into a split in the sixth frame he appeared to be through, but Wilman obliged by getting the same split a frame later. In the ninth Lillard was six pins behind. He got one strike, but failed to capitalize on it and wound up with 182. Wilman, who had struck in the ninth, needed only a spare to win. He rolled carefully—too carefully, it turned out. The ball cut through the pins, leaving the 1-2-10. Then came the roll that Lillard was afraid to watch. Wilman did not watch it either. As soon as the ball left his hand he knew it would slide past the headpin. He won the game 192 to 182, but it was not enough. Lillard, frustrated many times in the past—in 1954 he lost to Don Carter of St. Louis by 17 pins, although he outscored Carter in total pinfall—took the title with an eight-pin margin.
The women's final was almost as thrilling as the men's. Anita Cantaline, rated by SI with a chance to unseat Marion Ladewig last year, went into the final two-game match with a 36-pin advantage over stunning brunette Doris Porter, 35-year-old bowling instructor of Los Angeles. Mrs. Porter, who has a figure that slacks cry for, forged into the lead with a 192-145 victory. But Miss Cantaline, who teaches bowling in Detroit, came back with a 204 to 166 triumph, winning the title by 27 pins—the narrowest margin ever in the women's division.