BY MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — When the Professional Bowlers Association decided to unveil a new team format that's scheduled to begin in January of next year, North Tonawanda native John Szczerbinski wasn't sure he had a chance to be drafted. The second-year professional bowler certainly didn't expect to be selected by one of the sport's most popular names, Pete Weber.
But that's exactly what happened.
"I was bowling a regional tournament when they did the draft and my friends were sending me the picks of who was getting taken," Szczerbinski said. "I get a text message from Tommy Jones who was sitting next to Pete Weber during the draft. He said they were going to pick me in the fourth round.
"My heart was pumping and racing and I actually threw the last five strikes to finish out a 280 game to lead the regional that weekend," he continued. "I'm still in shock of getting picked, being a younger tour guy. It's an unfathomable feeling and I'm ready to take the experience by the horns and show them I'm meant to be out there."
The PBA has struggled in recent years as the sport tries to maintain sponsorships and seek out new relationships that will help generate more interest from fans and potential sponsors. The inaugural PBA team format is a venture by the league to appeal more to sponsors, which Szczerbinski said will provide more value to potential partners.
The past two seasons have tested Szczerbinski at every turn and he's looking to take advantage of this sudden and unexpected opportunity. Coming out of college at Wichita State, he said he lacked the confidence to really make a mark on the tour, despite competing for Team USA in international competition.
He said the chance to team up with legends like Pete Weber and Tommy Jones might be exactly the "jump start" he's been looking for.
"You definitely have to get your head bashed in a little bit before you start winning on tour," he said. "It's tough to sort of dive right in. This is definitely going to help calm my nerves and now I feel more accepted inside the tour. Right away getting picked is just a huge confidence boost ... I feel a little different already just being accepted by Pete Weber himself. It's a pretty neat feeling and it gives me a lot more motivation to work even harder and get even better than I am so I can help out the other four guys on my team."
Joining Szczerbinski on Team Weber (The Missouri-based squad) are Western New York natives Jack Jurek (Lackawanna) and Brad Angelo (Lockport) — Angelo is an alternate who will only play if someone suffers an injury.
Szczerbinski said that the local connection should be a huge asset for the team, and that he takes pride in being one of five local bowlers on tour. He was thrilled for Jurek when he heard he was drafted because the two are close friends.
"Him and I are actually roommates out there on tour," Szczerbinski said. "For me to get picked on his team is pretty good because we work so well together ... We're able to communicate very well without any judgements with each other. That should be a big asset for our team."
Each team in the PBA team league will have a celebrity owner, and four of the eight squads have already been paired up with somebody. Chris Paul, Terrell Owens, Jerome Bettis and Kevin Hart all have committed to be a part of the new league and Szczerbinski doesn't think it will be long before the other four teams have celebrity owners as well.
Paul is a bowling fanatic and has been an outspoken supporter of the PBA for several years.
"This is exciting for me and the sport of bowling," Paul told USA Today. "I love PBA action, have enjoyed getting to know many top bowlers and look forward to my team competing for the first PBA League Elias Cup."
Szczerbinski is ready to get started and said that he's eager to showcase his skills on such a prominent stage.Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter at @tonanewssports.