Pioneer Don Scott

February is Black History Month. That makes it an appropriate time to remember one of bowling’s pioneer African American pros, Don Scott.

A native of Cleveland, Scott learned his bowling as a teenage pinboy in Akron.  He began making a name for himself in local league and money matches during the 1950s.  He also won a number of events sponsored by The National Bowling Association, the black-oriented group created during ABC’s segregated days.

When the PBA was launched, Scott was one of the first blacks to join.  His proudest moment on Tour came in 1961.  The premier PBA event was the National Championship, and that year it was being held in Cleveland.  Charging out of the box in front of a hometown crowd, Scott topped the qualifying field of 192 entries.  He finished ninth in the tournament.

Don Scott (1927-2010)

The 1960s was a time of transition for America.  Many large businesses which had ignored black Americans now awoke to the fact that there was a huge untapped market out there. With his tournament success and outgoing personality, Scott was a natural to spread the gospel of bowling.  AMF signed him to its advisory staff to roll exhibition and stage clinics, and the Cleveland-based Carling Brewery hired him for similar work.

In 1964 Scott became the first African American to appear on the “Championship Bowling” TV show.  The series was at the peak of its popularity, and carried at least as much prestige as the still-new PBA Tour.  “We bowled in Akron, and Harvey Firestone from the tire company was one of the sponsors,” Scott remembered.  “He told [the producers] that he had a lot of black customers who were buying his tires, and they got the message.  It came down to J. Wilbert Sims and me.  I had been competing around Ohio, and most of the white bowlers knew me.  AMF was sponsoring the show, I was with AMF, so I got the nod.”

Admittedly nervous, Scott still did respectably.  He bowled against two future Hall of Famers, George Howard and Carmen Salvino, beating Howard and losing to Salvino.  His 1216 six-game total put him in the middle of the show’s 24-man standings.

Though he belonged to the PBA for nearly twenty years, Scott never bowled a full Tour schedule.  He had a bowling center and other businesses to run in Cleveland, and didn’t have much free time.  So he stuck to those events “a tankful of gas away” in places like Detroit, Buffalo, and Waukegan.

Besides, the competition was getting tougher.  “When I first went out there, if you carried a 203 or 204 average like I did, you cashed,” Scott said.  “Then it started to go up to 205, 206, 211, 212, just to cash.  I was still the same, but instead of cashing, now I was on page eight of the standings.”

Scott encountered very little racism in his PBA days.  The other bowlers were generally welcoming and supportive.  Scott remembers one episode with a chuckle.  He was sitting at the lunch counter at a tournament venue in Miami, and the waitress repeatedly ignored him.  Scott happened to mention it to Bill Allen, one of the Tour’s leading stars and a native Southerner.

“Allen got really excited,” Scott says.  “He told me, ‘You don’t have to put up with this! We’re going to tell Eddie [Elias]!  We don’t have to stay here!’  I finally had to tell him, ‘But Bill, it was a black waitress.’”

Scott eventually moved on from bowling into other ventures.  For more than thirty years he operated the country’s largest black-owned nightclub.  He and his wife Val raised three children “who never caused me the grief I caused my parents,” and who carved out successful professional careers of their own.

In 2000 Don Scott received the Congressional Black Caucus’s Unsung Hero Award to honor his bowling achievements.  He still lives in Cleveland, and plans to get copies of his old TV matches, “so my grandkids can show off to their friends.”

First published in Bowlers Journal, February 2007.  For this story and 89 more, buy a copy of my book The Bowling Chronicles.  Available on Amazon, or from McFarland Publishing for bulk orders.  A more useful award for your league champs than one more trophy!

9 Responses to “Pioneer Don Scott”

  1. Frank Schmitt Says:

    Scott’s match against George Howard is posted to YouTube. He passed away in 2010.

    • J.R. Schmidt Says:

      In 2006 I interviewed Don Scott by phone for this story. When I first called I had to leave a message for him on his phone. It happened that he was driving from Cleveland to some other city, and got my message when he pulled over at the rest stop. He returned my call on his cellphone, talked to me for a good 20 minutes, and brushed aside my offers to reimburse him for the call. He was one classy guy.
      –JRS

      • Frank Schmitt Says:

        He came through as a totally classy guy while talking to Fred Wolf also. I wish somebody could find & post his other match against Carmen Salvino. I find it “interesting” though that Championship Bowling was back in Akron for one final series the following year & did not have Mr Scott competing again.

      • J.R. Schmidt Says:

        I’m not sure, but Scott may have been on the final, color, non-Fred-Wolf season of the show.
        –JRS

  2. Barry Asher Says:

    I think Dons son wrote the screenplay for the movie Barber Shop Wonder man and I went to his nightclub 2000 people then alone with me Lol

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. drpepperforever Says:

    I don’t get it. Because the waitress who was ignoring him was African-American, that somehow made it seem okay?

    • J.R. Schmidt Says:

      When Don Scott told me this story many years ago, he himself thought it was funny. So if it was funny for him, it’s funny for me.
      –JRS

      • drpepperforever Says:

        Okay. Personally, I don’t find it funny. The story itself is interesting, though, and maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

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