History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Events - Sports



November 1979
May 2019

Bowling tournament

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The Holiday Invitational Tournament was an LGBT bowling tournament held in Milwaukee annually, over Thanksgiving weekend. A detailed account of HIT's pre-origins and first years was written by Timm "Laverne" Short (then-HIT Statistics Chairperson) and Bob Gliniecki (then-HIT Director) in November 1988, at HIT's 10th anniversary:

    The first bowling league was the Sunday Mixed Handicap League. It was formed in 1974 by Ken Kurtz (then manager of the Finale bar) and the staff of the Beer Garden (a women's bar). The league consisted of 8 five-person teams and was about two-thirds men and one-third women, and they bowled on alternate Sundays at Pinkey's Bowl. In 1976 a new league was formed on Monday nights (Monday Night Irregulars). The Monday night league was formed to accomodate those who wanted to bowl on a weekly basis.

    Since then, additional leagues have been added on the other Sunday night, Friday nights which was a scratch league for the first two years and then a handicap league for 2 years before folding. Three years ago we saw the Wednesday Goodtime Bowling League established which has 8 five-person teams with about 25% being women bowlers. For the past six years we have also run a Spring League, which usually fills the house, as a fund raiser for our tournament. With the exception of the Sunday Mixed Handicap League, these leagues bowl at our regular house (Landmark Lanes).

    In 1978, a group consisting of Ken Kurtz, David Theiss, Dick Krekowski, and Carol Pecor got together at David's house to discuss plans to organize a national bowling tournament. But where were the other cities' leagues? How could we contact them? A suggestion was made to contact individuals in other citiies that they had met through softball, to find out if they had bowling legues- and if they would be interested in coming to Milwaukee for a tournament.

    The 'Birth' of H.I.T.

    Our first tournament back in 1979 was small, and had no out of town participants. Looking back, we are glad they waited a year, as it gave us a chance to get some experience under our belts before hosting guests. Our second yaer saw bowlers from Chicago, Minneapolis, Toronto, Houston, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta (and we are proud to say that those cities have been back every year since). They have grown right along with us, and most of these cities now have their own very well organized tournaments.

    Although we have never hosted an International Gay Bowling Organization (IGBO) Tournament, we have hosted three IGBO Midyear Meetings in the past. At one point there was even talk of making Milwaukee the permanent site of the Midyear Meeting. But, we realize the importance to IGBO of having the meeting hosted by different cities. This way the whole community learns of IGBO and what it stands for, leagues grow and the sport flourishes.

    We in Milwaukee like to think that we had a big part in helping to create not only IGBO but the network of tournaments that now exists. We take pride in the fact that our tournament is the oldest tournament, and it continues to be a pace setter.

Michail Takach wrote the following summary of HIT after its demise.

    November 22, 1979: a logical family of bowling fans comes together to host the first annual Holiday Invitational Tournament (HIT) over Thanksgiving weekend. They sought to create a meaningful, memorable and welcoming event -- especially for those who might not have anywhere else to go for Thanksgiving.

    Family rejection was prevalent at the time. Going home to the parents (or in-laws) was unlikely, so options included a quiet dinner at home or meeting other orphans at the bar. Fortunately, many bar owners served full holiday dinners back then for their clients, so no one ever felt alone.

    "Having something to look forward to, a place to go, to talk openly, to not have to keep your mouth shut, on Thanksgiving? People said this is too good to be true," said a project contributor. "People came together in a really big way at HIT. It meant so much, to so many, for so long."

    Although the first year was small and locally attended, HIT quickly became the nation's first national gay bowling tournament (in 1980.) The event raised tens of thousands for community causes, welcomed visitors from all over the world, and inspired over 30 copycat tournaments. HIT also fostered the creation of the International Gay Bowling Organization. It was one of the top LGBTQ events of the year.

    By 2016, HIT attendance was on the decline. Once a much-needed refuge, HIT faced increasing competition from an unexpected and ironic source: traditional Thanksgiving plans. Increasingly, LGBTQ people were welcome at the family dinner table, along with their spouses/partners and children, so they now had to choose between their family and their FAMILY. Over four decades, the world had really changed.

    Board members spoke of reduced sponsorships and donations, and even worse, serious challenges in finding future leaders for the organization. While many long-time volunteers were aging, nobody was stepping in to sustain HIT's future. Wisconsin's most prevalent talent shortage -- a growing gap in future LGBTQ leadership -- led to the end of the Holiday Invitational Tournament on May 1, 2019. "It is with great sadness that we make this last posting to inform you all of the decision to no longer continue the Holiday Invitational Tournament. The 40 years of HIT has certainly seen its years of highs and lows and we feel that the time has come to let our tournament end."

    And, just like that, one of the longest-running LGBTQ sports organizations in the country was sadly no more. The demise of HIT has been so under-reported that even long-time HIT bowlers are unaware it ended.

HIT 25th Anniversary
(OutBound magazine, vol 2 no. 11-
Nov. 2003)

Credits: Early History of HIT written by Timm "Laverne" Short and Bob Gliniecki.
Post-demise History of HIT written by Michail Takach.
Web site concept, design and arrangement by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: November-2021.

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