Updated: Mar 16
In 2020, a $1,000 prize can entice many semi-pro enthusiasts, amateur players, and even novices to participate in a local bowling competition. Now imagine a similar prize offering, but in 1942. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1,000 in 1942 was worth a whopping $15,830 in today’s money. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the Hoinke Classic was an instant success, attracting people from across the globe for 77 years and counting.
The Tournament’s Beginnings Amidst War
The Hoinke family’s Price Hill bowling establishment was the birthplace of the Hoinke Classic, when in 1942, Mr. Erwin Hoinke Sr. staged the inaugural tournament in association with Mr. Clarence Stegner. The event started as a doubles-only tournament, with the first prize purse valued at $1000, to be issued via war bonds.
A patriotic endeavor to aid in the war effort, the event originated as a means to raise money for war bonds. However, the founding organizers also had an affinity for bowling and wanted to promote their interest in the game to their communities. Mr. Hoinke Sr. subsequently passed on his love for the game to his son, Erwin Hoinke Jr.
Originally, the tournament was only open to bowlers averaging 182 and under. A singles format was later added in 1950 with the same $1000 payout. Around this time, as the Cold War was brewing, the US involvement in the conflict in Korea to battle the spread of Soviet-backed communism, began the Korean War.
Passing From One Generation to Another
Ervin Hoinke Jr. was a part of the US Armed Forces and served during the Korean War. A tremendous bowler himself, the younger Mr. Hoinke made use of his family’s vast bowling infrastructure to hone his skills, even at an early age. While serving in the military, he became a member of the US Armed Forces Team and participated in tournaments across Korea, Japan, and Hawaii alongside the team.
The younger Mr. Hoinke would eventually take over the bowling business as well as the Hoinke Classic’s organizational responsibilities from his father. During the 1950s, the tournament began to see expansion. This was, in part, thanks to the opening of the Western Bowl center in 1958. The facility boasted 32 lanes with an additional 16 lanes that were added in 1960. For comparison, the Hoinke Lanes facility only has 16 lanes.
From 1958 through 1970, the Hoinke Classic was split between the two facilities, with the newer Western Bowl hosting the traditional singles and doubles events, and the new team event (introduced in 1960) being competed at the Hoinke Lanes. As the event added more infrastructure to its resume, the number of entries began to steadily increase. While the 1950 classic saw 532 entries, the team event added in 1960 drew an additional 416 entries. In 1965, the doubles event boasted 1915 entries. The increase in entries and popularity naturally mandated that the Hoinke Classic increase its prize offering. For example, the 1965 doubles tournament first prize was $2000, twice of the original 1943 offering.
In 1970, the Western Bowl added a final 20 lanes to become a state-of-the-art 68-lane bowling mega facility. During this time, the Hoinke Lanes closed down while the Hoinke Family maintained ownership of the larger Western Bowl Lanes. This made Western Bowl the exclusive venue of the Hoinke Classic.
The younger Mr. Hoinke has been described by many as a kind, charitable, and amicable individual, who spent 60 plus hours every week at the Western Bowl and took time to interact with the wide range of competitors who graced the lanes. Under his leadership, the Hoinke Classic grew from a regional affair to a nationwide bowling extravaganza.
The Peak Years
In the 1980s, the tournament was arguably at its most popular stage, with roughly 55,000 individuals signing up. In 1980, there were 14,920 entries across the singles, doubles, and team competitions, and the first prize was a hefty $30,000. During this period, the tournament was molded into its modern format where it begins in mid-February and runs through Thanksgiving, concluding the Sunday after. It was also in 1980 that Erwin Hoinke Sr. passed away at the age of 84. Mr. Hoinke Sr. was posthumously inducted in the Ohio State Bowling Hall of Fame as a bowling pioneer.
Due to the large timeframe, bowlers plan their outing to the Hoinke Classic strategically, with an initial entry in the summer months to take advantage of the vacation days, followed by a second outing near the end of the event, giving competitors an idea of the high-scores that they would need to beat to get a better chance at the sweepstakes.
The decade continued to be profitable for the tournament. As the 1990s rolled along, the tournament continued to be popular. On its 50th anniversary, the tournament had reached gargantuan proportions when compared to its relatively humble beginnings in 1942. Now, bowlers from across the US and the world would make at least one trip to the coveted Hoinke Classic during its 45-week span. An estimated 40,000 bowlers would grace the event annually during this period. While the number is a slight decline from the 1980 peak, the tournament continues to bring prosperity to the community. “I’ve seen every state represented except for two during my time with the tournament,” said Michel Herbers, the current Tournament Director.
The tournament’s popularity can be attributed to its jackpot-like mini-tournaments such as the aptly named Jackpot Bowling. These kinds of fun gambling-like games, as well as the fact that the event was designed to attract amateurs rather than professionals, lead to the immense popularity of the event. These factors along with the Hoinke family’s astute management were responsible for making the Hoinke Classic, at this time, the largest bowling tournament in the US in terms of cash prize offerings.
The prizes ranged from $6,000 to $57,000 with the total purse valued at $1,000,000. The fact that amateur bowlers stood a chance of winning big prizes kept bringing new entries as well as retaining older ones. The Hoinke Classic’s integrity has been maintained through the years, with immediate and complete payouts awarded to winning bowlers.
The New Millennium
The 2000s were rough on the Hoinke Classic. The global recession of 2008 affected businesses worldwide, but it was especially brutal in the US entertainment sector industries, as consumer sentiment and free cash flow among individuals reached record lows as unemployment skyrocketed.
In 2009, due to the dwindling number of bowlers coming to Western Bowl and general market sentiment, the Hoinke family was close to shuttering the Western Bowl, the tournament’s only venue for nearly 40 years. During this period, the Hoinke family noted that a lack of financing would give them no other choice. Russ Hoinke, the son of then 76-year-old Erwin Hoinke Jr. mentioned to the media that the banking sector’s lack of willingness to give out loans during this period was one of the reasons preventing them from taking more positive action with regards to the venue.
However, in the final stages, the family had discussions with some bowling proprietors and were able to finalize a sale of the Western Bowl. The business was sold to Larry Schmittou which ensured that the Hoinke Classic would live on. For the Green Township community, this was good news in a bleak period in recent memory.
The pioneer and the protagonist of the Hoinke Classic’s story, Mr. Erwin Hoinke Jr, affectionately known as Erv, passed away on February 16, 2015. He was 82 years old. A popular figure in the local community as well as in the bowling community, his funeral was attended by 100 individuals who came to pay their respects. Today, the Hoinke Classic still goes on and is due to commence its 2020 tournament as of March 13th.
Walk-ins are welcome.