ARLINGTON -- As home to both the governing body of bowling and its leading trade organization, Arlington is already the sport's U.S. capital of sorts.
On June 30, the spotlight will shine even brighter when Cowboys Stadium hosts the 2011 Bowling's U.S. Women's Open finals, an event that organizers hope sets a world attendance record. It will be the first women's professional bowling event held at a traditional sports venue, according to the nonprofit Bowling Proprietors Association of America.
After the event is televised on ESPN2 a few days later, organizers expect to see another uptick in interest. That's because the tournament's five finalists will bowl on lanes set up on each side of the blue star at the 50-yard line, easily recognizable on TV.
"When people are flipping through and watching this event on ESPN, they're going to see that star and know automatically that is Cowboys Stadium, so I figure we'll create a lot of interest and a lot of viewership," Steve Johnson, the association's executive director, said recently.
With 8,000 out-of-town visitors expected at the 2011 International Bowl Expo scheduled for Sunday through July 1 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center on Lake Grapevine, organizers are optimistic that they'll set an attendance record. The current mark was established in 1995, when 7,212 fans watched the men's finals in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena.
"We've printed a little over 11,000 tickets," said Bart Burger, the association's vice president for business development. Tickets are available to the public.
Hundreds of bowlers
Top female bowlers as well as some hoping to make their mark will compete starting Friday for a chance to go to the finals. Qualifying rounds will be at AMF Euless Lanes. Attendance is free for the public.
As of Tuesday, 287 entries had been received, organizers said, surpassing the previous high of 267 in 2003. Bowlers from the U.S., Colombia, South Korea, Denmark, England, Finland and the Philippines are expected to compete.
Preparations were under way at AMF Euless on Tuesday, league Director Sissy Neugent said.
"Everything is going pretty smooth right now," she said.
Besides a shot at competing in Cowboys Stadium, the bowlers are no doubt attracted by the $50,000 purse for the winner. And if one rolls a 300 in the championship match, she will win an unprecedented $1 million, the association said.
"It's just the whole package. Everybody who is anybody in bowling wants to be involved in this," Stefanie Nation, one of the sport's young stars, said Tuesday. "They want to be part of an historic event."
On Friday, bowlers of any skill level are invited to participate in a pro-am event at AMF Euless. The $39 entry fee includes two tickets to the finals, a $40 value, Burger said.
"It's a chance to come out and bowl with some of the best female bowlers in the world," he said. "It's noncompetitive -- it's all about going out and having fun."
Bowling participation has been on the rise for two years, according to the association. Bowling is among the nation's fastest-growing high school sports, for example, and participation among women ages 25-34 has risen almost 5 percent. Young, athletic and telegenic female competitors like Nation and Clara Guerrero have helped give the sport a "fresh face."
That holds true locally, employees of Arlington bowling centers say. At AMF Spare Time Lanes on South Cooper Street, a women's summer league was recently added by popular demand, league director Beverly Riddle said.
"It seems like the women are getting more interested," she said.
In north Arlington, AMF Arlington Lanes has also seen a surge, with participation up 50 to 65 percent in just the last month, shift supervisor Floyd Stover said.
He wasn't sure of the reason but said, "All the employees are taking notice of it."
Patrick M. Walker,