Ray Bala was an excellent bowler in the 1950s and ’70s. The first Windsor bowler to win Canadian and Ontario singles titles, he dominated the Windsor bowling scene and competed in the United States against several of the strongest North American bowlers of his generation.
Bala was born in Windsor on February 21, 1931.
At the age of 13, he took a job as a “pin boy” at the old Crescent Lanes bowling alley on Ottawa Street, which would later become Parkview Lanes. Bala worked at the alley between 1944 and ’46, where he bowled in the Saturday morning Pin Boy League and became more and more familiar with the game. In 1947, Bala moved to the Palace Lanes (which would somewhat confusingly later become known as the Crescent Lanes), where he set pins for one year.
Bala stepped away from bowling for a number of years as he pursued a career in police work. He began working at the Windsor Police Department as a clerk in 1950 and became a full Officer in ’52.
In 1953, Harry and Evelyn Slobasky, proprietors of Crescent Lanes, asked Bala if he would like to return to bowling. Because he was building a home and his first child was due in a matter of months, Bala politely declined, but the Slobaskys offered him a deal he was unable to refuse. The couple promised to look after his bowling fees so long as Bala would help organize the Labatt’s 12-Team Men’s Handicap Classic League and serve as the alley’s Secretary-Treasurer. Bala agreed and went on to hold the latter role for several years.
Bala began to bowl competitively, representing Canada Tavern in the Crescent League and Mariotti’s Restaurant in the Local 195 Men’s Handicap League at the Palace Recreation between 1953 and ’55. In ’54, Bala entered the premier non-handicap Classic Leagues in Windsor as a member of Gitlin’s team. He played for a list of teams that included East Windsor Tavern, Centre Tool, Auto Haulaway, and Carlini Collision as he became one of Windsor’s finest bowlers. He regularly bowled in the all-important “anchor” position, the fifth and final spot in a team’s order.
Bala became the first Windsor bowler to win singles titles at the national and provincial level. Only one other area bowler has been able to match this feat since. Bala won the Ontario and Windsor/Essex County 10-Pin Singles crowns in 1955, a year in which he also competed at the USA Masters Tournament in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Later that year, Bala submitted a record-setting performance to win the Canadian 10 Pin Singles Championship. He recorded a total score of 3,000 in the 15-game series (a 200-per-game average), the highest ever rolled in a major Canadian tournament at that point.
In 1958, Bala again won the Canadian and Ontario 10 Pin Singles Championships. He was invited to play in the USA Masters Tournament in Syracuse, New York, where he finished 10th out of 389 bowlers. Bala bettered such outstanding bowlers as two-time defending champion Bob Hoover, 1954 champion Rod Elkins, and 1957 American Bowling Congress All-Events Champion Jim Spalding. Later that year, he was the only Canadian invited to the elite World’s Invitational Tournament in Chicago.
Over the course of his career, Bala bowled over a century of 700 and 600 series, which were extraordinary scores at the time. He won numerous high-single and high-triple game awards. At the time of his induction he was still the highest ever Canadian finalist at the US Masters Tournament.
Bowling was a very different game in Bala’s day, making his accomplishments even more impressive. At the time, only one type of bowling ball existed, lanes were not top-dressed, pins weighed inconsistent amounts, and equipment across the board was more primitive than today’s state-of-the-art standards.
In 1958, Bala served as Organizer and Secretary-Treasurer for the Golden Mile Classic men’s and mixed-handicapped leagues. He teamed up with Cecil Ward of Detroit to co-found the “Hands Across the Border” International Freedom Festival Tournament. First held in 1958, the competition still existed at the time of Bala’s induction.
Following the 1960-61 season, Bala’s work commitments with the Windsor Police Department necessitated the interruption of his bowling career. He spent the better part of a decade representing his employer on several provincial and federal committees, which often required significant travel outside of the city at short notice. He resumed playing in 1970 and achieved further success. Between 1971 and ’80, his Carlini Collision team won the Crescent Classic League seven times.
Bala received a City of Windsor Hall of Fame Medal at its Banquet of Champions in both 1956 and ’61. He was inducted into the Windsor/Essex County 10 Pin Bowling Hall of Fame in ’85.