by Fred Eisenhammer
WINNETKA – Big news. Really big news. There will be somewhat of a new face exploding his ball down the lanes in Wednesday’s “Mixed Classic Handicap” summer league at Winnetka Bowl.
That will be Mike Willis, who local bowling aficionados might recognize as the efficient and affable longtime general manager at Winnetka Bowl.
Many people might not realize that Willis used to be (and undoubtedly remains) a gifted bowler who was part of 15 to 20 teams that Winnetka Bowl sent annually to the state tournament. Willis will be carrying a powerful bowling resume, though he minimizes his solid past performance. “I used to be all right,” says Willis, ever-modest. “Nothing like [elite bowler] Johnnie [Englehart], but I had a few good moments.” There actually were more than a few.
All one needs to know about Willis’ talent is that he once averaged a stratospheric 232 one year in a summer league and has bowled a flurry of perfect games. That he doesn’t remember the specific number is a testament to his ability. “Three or four, maybe five,” recalls Willis about his perfectos. “I don’t have exact recollection. The first one was when I was bowling juniors when I was 19. My last one was in 2005.”
Englehart clearly remembers bowling with Willis. He says, “Mike as a bowler was one of the best. He was as accurate as they come. He was up there with the best of us.” Englehart says that Willis’ scores were better than first impressions suggest. “If you were over 200 [average] then, that was big time,” he says.
Willis says he plans to have his bowling ball re-drilled and then engage in a few practice sessions. “I haven’t picked up a ball in four years,” says Willis, adding he was drawn back to the game by the attractiveness of the three-month, three-players-to-a-team summer league.
Willis, a right-hander, admits that he has some unfinished business with his bowling game. “I haven’t had the 8 [800 series]. I’ve bowled a 784.” He laughs. “That elusive 800. I’d like to bowl that.”