Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Remembering Robbie Tanaka & my Bowling Days with the JCCB

Today's Autism Awareness month blog posting has me writing about a special interest that I had in my life from a very young age.

Before John and I decided to have kids, my immediate career before owning Count Your Beans Dolls & Bears was bowling professionally with the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour (LPBT) / Professional Women's Pro Bowler's Association (PWBA). Sadly the organization is no longer around, primarily due to lack of sponsorship interest and funds.

My first bowling experience was when I was 3 and by elementary school, I was in my first bowling league. Junior league bowling continued throughout elementary school, junior high school and high school and continued into my college years when after I transferred from UC Santa Cruz to California Polytechnic State University, I also bowled for the women's collegiate bowling team at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

During my late teens and in the beginning of my college years, I traveled around California about 3 weekends out of the month competing in various junior tournament club programs. When I was still at home in Mountain View, the closest events were usually through the California Junior Tournament Club (CJTC). Ones that required a little more driving included the Junior Central California Bowlers (JCCB) and Bay Area Junior Classic (BAJC) tournament clubs.

Some offered trophies, some offered scholarships and one of the best clubs for juniors, the JCCB offered a lot of really good competition.  I had quite a few titles and step-ladder finishes in the various clubs but when you won a JCCB, it was generally against some very good talent.  A lot of the gals I bowled with in the tournament clubs I ended up competing against in college, the WTA, the WWPB and some I even ended up seeing out on the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour.

I just learned yesterday from a special bowling friend from back in the day that the coordinator for the JCCB, Robbie Tanaka had recently passed away.  Apparently he had been sick for some time but when he passed, he was surrounded by family and friends.

I would imagine that Robbie had a lot of friends.  He was an amazing ambassador for junior bowling and did a terrific job putting together tournaments which were well-attended, competitive and enjoyable.  He was the kind of guy that kids respected and he was genuinely nice and supportive.  He appeared happy for people to bowl well and whether you were a regular top 5 finisher or you struggled to make the cut, he was silently encouraging and had a big warm smile.

I am sure many junior bowlers who learned of his passing are mourning his loss because he was the kind of man that even if you didn't know him well, you still liked him because he had a gentle soul and selfless personality.  At least that is how I read him and although we didn't particularly know each other well, my life and junior bowling days were definitely better because of the influence he had in the junior bowling community.

Although I attended other tournament clubs more frequently due to my geographical location, my primary participation with the JCCB was back in the mid to late 80s during my single days as Karen Pitsenbarger. When I'd go to these events, it would be to bowl.  I would get nervous entering into a bowling center before a tournament because it meant that all these teenagers were hanging around and that would mean socialization opportunities which wasn't exactly my forte'.  I did have a boyfriend who bowled socially that would occasionally accompany me but since he played baseball on the weekends, he was unable to get to many of the events.

Every tournament would bring the same apprehension.  It wasn't about the bowling.  It wasn't about who I was competing against.  Heck, I had all their stats memorized anyway.  (You wouldn't believe all the names and numbers I memorized.... I was such a stats geek! I know there were some other bowling Aspies out there kinda like me. Right?) It was definitely the social aspect of the tournaments that made me jittery.

Now don't get me wrong, I was a very good sport and had my social scripts memorized to a t. (Of course I didn't realize they were social scripts back then.)  Enough people knew me where I could have conversations and try to blend in before a tournament started.  That being said, I was a pretty quiet gal who kept to myself unless someone came up to me and although I tried to be sincere and friendly with everyone and did develop some friendships which now carry on through the power of Facebook, I wasn't very good at the social stuff back then. (Hmm... an Aspie with social challenges? Wow, who would have thought that?)  My guess is that if I were to ask people who bowled with me back then who might have remembered me (my last name tended to take up most of the back of my shirt...), they would have said I was nice, quiet, nerdy, threw the ball hard and pretty much kept to myself.   I'm not sure if anyone disliked me, although I suspect that I didn't quite fit in with a few of the cliques.

Ironically, parents seemed to like me.  My parents never attended any of my junior bowling tournament club events but there were a number of guys and gals I bowled with whose parents would come and they were always very kind to me.  Even though I knew they were rooting for their own kid to do well, it always felt good when they said nice things to me too.

I often wonder if I came off as aloof unintentionally? I seemed to be able to bond better with the guys than the girls although there were some genuinely friendly girls there.  Well, I'll save that little bit of psycho-analysis and introspection for another day!  If you happened to come across this blog through a search engine and said to yourself, "hey, I remember her... sort of...", feel free to say hi!  Chances are that I do remember you!

Today I have thought a lot about my junior bowling days.  I know this came about because of the recent news of Robbie's passing.  Even now he is bringing (former) junior bowlers together once again as we celebrate his life and remember the good times we had competing in the JCCB and other California junior tournaments.

God Bless you, Robbie Tanaka. My condolences go out to all your friends and family. I know you positively touched the lives of many and it was an honor to be a part of the JCCB.  Save a lane for me up in heaven and we'll bowl a game together someday!  Hmm... wonder if they'll have the banners up there as well?

Blessings and love,
Karen Pitsenbarger Krejcha


  1. Hi Karen,
    Bowled a few WTA events with you back in the day. Great article you wrote of your memories on Robbie Tanaka. A huge inspiration to junior bowling for California. There is a thread on Robbie @ pbatour.com (message boards, west coast, (under interaction tab) if you would like to repost your article. Gina Moura

  2. Hey Karen --- Not only are you a great bowler but you're quite a writer. My son has autism (Aspergers) and when I came across your article about Robbie, it was fortunate I could read some of your other writing too. I will be back. By the way, don't know if it matters but I had no clue you had autism (aspgergers). You just seemed like a sweet pretty girl with a nice smile and a really hard throw. Out of my league, LOL. All the best to you.

  3. Hi Gina & Anonymous,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and taking the time to post! I appreciate your kind words. It's nice hearing from you. Hope life is treating you both well!

    Gina, I appreciate your referral to the PBA Tour message boards. I just posted there a few moments ago. Robbie was such an integral part of junior bowling in California. He will certainly be missed and remembered fondly.

    Anonymous, I'm not sure who you are or where you're located but I will be blogging all month in support of April being Autism / Asperger's Awareness month. Please feel free to check out my blogs and if you'd like to contribute or if you have any questions, just let me know!

    Best wishes,

  4. Nice memories of Robbie. Glad to find you again after all these years. You may not have known it but you were always one of the female favorites among the guys I hung with. I'll drop you a line at your gmail account. Cheers, S.

  5. Thanks so much, S! I'm glad we reconnected again also! :-)

  6. I think Bowling Tournaments will be great
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