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Best of bowlers, best of friends

Waukesha bowlers have enjoyed longstanding success

Jan. 17, 2012

The City of Waukesha has produced many good bowlers over the years. Some of the best scores in the state came out of the city back in the 1960s and 70s.

Fracaro's Lanes had more than its share of good bowlers and teams. The team of Howie Nero, Dave Fracaro, Doug Blankenheim, Bill Lundy and Norb Grosskopf turned in the best scores year after year in those days.

Sunset Bowl also had some good showings - perhaps the best team it produced was the combination of Ron Falter, Jerry Box, Bill Schaefer, Dave Schirripa and Steve Herbst.

While both of those teams rank with the best in city history, neither produced the numbers that a group of young guns started turning in a little more than 30 years. To this day, the combination of Pete Muehl, Tom Rucks, Larry Cisz, Jim Knoblauch, Greg Box and Rob Lange are still going strong, even though they're not bowling as seriously or as often as they once did.

As a group, they've bowled 15 totals of 800 more and have combined to roll 66, 300 games. Knoblauch has six of those 800 totals and 21 perfect games. Muehl and Cisz have 13 perfect games each. Lange, 53, bowled his sixth perfect game last Tuesday at Fox Run Lanes in Waukesha.

All on the same page

"I think most of us bowled three, four of even five times a week when we were younger," Rucks said. "Right now, most of us bowl just once a week. A couple of the guys might bowl twice a week, but nothing like the old days. Heck, we're getting old. But you know what, we're still bowling pretty well. And most important, we're having a lot of fun."

No matter where they bowled, whether at Sunset, Totem Bowl, Fracaro's or Atlantis Bowl in Waukesha, Hartbrook Lanes in Hartland, Classic Lanes in Oconomowoc or B & B Bowl in Greenfield, the team always did well. In fact, before they left the high-scoring Oconomowoc Masters league at Classic Lanes in 1995, bowling for Muffler's and Pipes, they set the Oconomowoc city record with a scratch team score of 3,612.

"The motto we had back in the day was make sure you had a lot of fun first and then bowl the best you could second," said Cisz, who bowled in shorts all the time no matter how cold it was outside. "We had a fun group of guys. We bowled well, but nobody had more fun."

Muehl, the oldest of the group at 57, echoed those statements. "There's no doubt we had a lot of fun every night we bowled," Muehl said. "I think one of the biggest reasons we did so well was that we didn't take it too seriously. We made sure we always had a good time."

Coming together

Knoblauch has taken his game to a higher level. He's still bowling in the PBA's Regional Tournament circuit and also competes occasionally on the PBA Senior Tour.

"I started bowling with those guys a long time ago," Knoblauch said. "We bowled together a lot, and also bowled against each other. It's kind of unique that all of us were from Waukesha."

Lange moved to Waukesha from California in the mid 70s and just showed up at Totem Bowl one day to see if he could get on a team.

"I didn't know any of them when my family first came to town," Lange said. "But with as much fun as those guys liked to have, it was pretty easy to fit in."

Box also joined the team a few years later after Rucks and Muehl put together a few teams. He fit right in immediately.

"I haven't bowled with them as much as some of the other guys, but being with those guys has been a great experience for me," Box said. "I learned a lot about bowling from them, and I also learned quickly how much fun they had while they were on the lanes."

Several others competed with that group for extended period of times over the years. Earl Smith, Dale Adamski and Tim and Scott Donahue are a few of them.

Besides all of their accomplishments on the lanes, Muehl and Rucks, with their families, were in the bowling business in the city.

Muehl's parents, Howard and Judy, owned Totem Bowl in Waukesha for years. They eventually leased out the operation to Rucks's parents, Estelle and Orville. They eventually left that lease and built Fox Run Lanes on the southwest side of the city.

Box later ran a pro shop out of Sunset Bowl, drilling bowling balls and selling other equipment. He probably summed up his experience with those guys best.

"I couldn't have asked to have bowled with better guys."

The Bowling Six

Pete Muehl (57) - Muehl, who sported one of the biggest hooks back in the day, has three 800 totals and 13 perfect games. His best average ever was 231 one season at Totem Bowl.

Tom Rucks (51) - Like Muehl, Rucks also threw one of the sharpest breaking hooks in the area in his younger days. He has a bunch of series in the 790s but has yet to crack the coveted 800 barrier. Rucks has bowled nine 300 games. His best average came one season at Fox Run when he had a 226 mark.

Larry Cisz (55) - Cisz has 13 perfect games and two totals of 800 or better. His best average was 219 one season at Red Carpet Lanes in Waukesha.

Jim Knoblauch (57) - With six scores of 800 or better and 21 perfect games, he also has won a PBA Regional crown. That title came in 2007 in Columbus, Wis. One of the most accurate bowlers in city history, Knoblauch's best league mark was 229 at Sunset Bowl.

Rob Lange (53) - Lange has rolled six 300 games and two 800 totals. His best league average is 222.

Greg Box (53) - Box has put together a pair of 800 totals and four 300 games. His best league average is 214 at Classic Lanes.

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