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Carter, Don(ald) James

CARTER, Don(ald) James

(b. 29 July 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri), professional bowler who dominated the sport in the 1950s and 1960s.

Carter was the younger of two sons born to and raised by Gladys Carter in St. Louis. As a child, Carter got his first exposure to bowling while working as a pinsetter. (In those days, the ten pins had to be set by hand.) Carter took up bowling in his early teens after his mother encouraged him to pursue the sport. In 1942 he joined a local bowling club and his fascination with the sport intensified. Although Carter got a charge out of bowling, he participated in other sports as well, playing both baseball and football for Wellston High School. He graduated from Wellston in 1944 and joined the World War II navy effort, spending two years as a radarman before leaving the service in June 1946.

In autumn 1946 Carter signed a contract with the Philadelphia Athletics (later the Oakland A's) to play on one of its baseball farm teams. As a teen, Carter had played American Legion ball with Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola. The scouts, who had come in hordes to watch Berra and Garagiola, remembered Carter from his youth and offered him a position. During his first (and only) year on a farm team in Red Springs, North Carolina, Carter pitched his way to a dismal 3–7 record and had an earned run average of 4.19. Although he performed better at the plate, compiling a .302 batting average, Carter decided he wasn't major-league material.

Disappointed, Carter returned to St. Louis, moved back in with his mother, and rekindled his passion for bowling. He worked tirelessly to earn enough money to bowl. He found work as a pipe-fitter's helper, a punch-machine operator, and a piston packer. His mother charged him little in rent, so he spent the bulk of his money on practicing at bowling alleys. During the winter of 1947 to 1948, Carter bowled in six leagues. In 1948 he became the general manager of the Golden Eagle Lanes in St. Louis. He was delighted to be spending more time in the bowling alley, but the responsibility of the job didn't leave him much time for tournament bowling. He finally found a job as an instructor and was able to earn a living and sharpen his skills at the same time.

Carter's reputation in bowling circles soon grew, and he was asked to join a prominent Detroit-based team, the Pfeiffers. In 1951, Bowlers Journal named Carter to its All-America team. In 1953 he won the All-Star Championship. This title, coupled with his overall performance as a key player of the Pfeiffer team, earned him the Bowler of the Year honors from the Bowling Writers Association of America, an award he recaptured in 1954, 1957, 1958, 1960, and 1962.

After earning his first bowler-of-the-year title in 1953, Carter was invited to join the St. Louis Budweiser bowling team. For four consecutive years (1956–1959) the team won the National Team Match Game title. In 1958 the Budweiser team rolled the highest score in the history of bowling, setting the five-player team series record at 3,858 points. Their score was thought to be unbeatable and stuck for nearly forty years before it was narrowly broken. The Budweiser company eventually withdrew their sponsorship of the team, and Carter assembled the members into the new Carter Glove team, which won the National Team Match Game title in 1961.

Carter was the first bowler to win all the major bowling titles of his day: the World Invitational (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962); the Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA) All-Star (later the U.S. Open; 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958); the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) National (1960); and the American Bowling Congress (ABC) Master's Championship (1961). During his career Carter bowled twenty-three perfect games (twelve strikes in a row for a total of 300 points). He also won the National Men's Doubles championship title in 1958 and 1959, when he teamed with Tom Hennessey. At age fifty Carter retired from professional bowling because an old football knee injury was getting the best of him. Legions of fans had enjoyed watching him bowl, whether on television or in person.

Carter had a unique style. He was no speedballer; instead, he lobbed the ball down the lane in a cold, careful, and calculated manner that ensured accuracy. His concentration skills were unequaled. The six-foot, 200-pound Carter got so wrapped up in his game that he often lost several pounds over the course of a tournament; during matches, he never spoke to an opponent. If he felt a part of his game needed work, he would spend hours practicing that skill. As Carter told the New Jersey Record, "To become a great bowler takes temperament and dedication. Bowling is a very difficult game mentally. In golf you see all the hazards. In bowling you don't see the slick boards. Every lane is different. You have to adjust for your mistakes. The best bowlers are the ones who are able to adjust."

While fans relished his style and presence, other professional bowlers cringed at his unorthodox low-crouched, bent-arm style. Most bowlers thought a professional should crouch only slightly and should keep the arm extended. Fans, however, loved Carter, who single-handedly transformed bowling from a smoke-filled, blue-collar recreational activity to a mainstream television sport. Because of Carter, tournaments were televised and dozens of bowling shows filled the airwaves. Bowling became a favorite pastime.

Along the way, Carter met an amateur bowler named LaVerne Haverly. They married in August 1953 and had a son and a daughter before divorcing. In the mid-1970s he married Paula Sperber, also a bowler. Carter was inducted into the ABC and PBA Halls of Fame in the 1970s. Both of his wives became members of the Women's International Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.

Residents of Miami, Carter and his second wife have raised more than $1 million for abused and neglected children in southern Florida. They also oversee several Florida-based bowling centers named for Carter. Decades after Carter won his last major bowling tournament, fans still referred to him as Mr. Bowling for his tireless promotion of the sport and because no other bowler had so captured the hearts and minds of bowling enthusiasts.

There are no full-scale biographies of Carter, although his book with George Kenney, Bowling the Pro Way (1975), offers an introduction that touches on his life and accomplishments. Carter also wrote Ten Secrets of Bowling (1958). For articles about Carter's career, see "Mr. and Mrs. Bowling," Look (5 Feb. 1957); "Awkward Champion," Newsweek (3 Feb. 1958); "Mr. Bowling," Time (8 Dec. 1961); Bowlers Journal (Jan. 1962); Chuck Pezzano, "Carter Received a Major Salute," New Jersey Record (12 Feb. 1995); and Pezzano, "Legendary Don Carter Still Going Strong at Seventy-four," New Jersey Record (29 Apr. 2001).

Lisa Frick

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