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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Burlington: bowling’s best kept secret

Hoppe (left) instructs a student at Haley’s Pro Shop. // Photo by Jessica Vangel

By Jaya Flanary

Haley’s Pro Shop is easy to miss as you drive by and difficult to leave once you’re inside.

Bowling balls sit on shelves along the walls and equipment hangs from hooks in the front room. Pictures and posters cover the rest from floor to ceiling, including a United States map with pushpins scattered across it, representing where customers travel from.

“You’re like a doctor in here,” said Ron Hoppe, a United States Bowling Congress gold-certified coach. “People come in with problems and we have to fix it. Doesn’t matter what it is.”

There are fewer than 30 gold coaches worldwide, and Hoppe – who also holds a Professional Bowling Association title – is one of them.

Built in 2000 by entrepreneur Jeff Miller, Haley’s is located off Peterson Road in Burlington in a converted house in Miller’s backyard.

“[Hoppe] came up here and saw what I had going on and his eyes lit up and he said, ‘This is perfect,’” Miller said.

Miller said coaching at a bowling center is difficult because it can be hard to find secluded lanes for a lesson.

“What Jeff and I have created, this is one of the best. I’ve never had anything this good,” Hoppe said. “I can give someone in one hour more information than I could have done in a week of working with them [elsewhere].”

Hoppe’s first ball – a Brunswick Black Beauty – was drilled incorrectly. His thumb got “tore up” from the mistake. Ever since, he has valued the art of a pro shop operator.

“I never worry about anyone who walks through that door. Whether it’s someone who’s got bad arthritis or joints that don’t work anymore or missing fingers,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe at a bowling tournament in California in 1976. // Photo courtesy of Ron Hoppe

Miller and Hoppe can measure and fit a bowling ball to any person’s hand.

They use Strike Seeker, a bowling training software program, to correct flaws in a bowler’s game.

“It has five cameras that video every delivery you make,” Hoppe said. “You cannot hide from my cameras.”

Hoppe puts all the information on a USB drive so students can study what they need to work on at home.

“I like the way Ron fits [hands],” customer Dennis Springer said. “He’s very thorough and meticulous in fitting bowling balls. He always makes new suggestions.”

Hoppe’s interest started as a teenager when he worked as a pinsetter at Lake City Bowl for 20 cents. He joined his first league soon after.

He dabbled in other activities, including motorcycle racing, but always came back to bowling.

“[Bowling] never quite filled the void of not being able to race. But it filled the void of competition,” Hoppe said. “And as I got more involved in it, I realized that the pro shop people didn’t really have any guidance, they just all did it the way Brunswick said to do it.”

He started asking questions.

“[With] my inquisitive nature, I want to find out why we’re doing something. Why in the world are we doing it this way?” Hoppe said. “I never stopped trying to find a better way to do it.”

His curiousness fast-tracked him through the industry. Pretty soon Hoppe ran more than five pro shops and was helping bowlers get on the PBA tour, including Brian Voss, Norm Duke and Jason Belmonte, who is currently one of the best bowlers in the world.

Hoppe has been the head coach for six countries and he believes “bowling is a common language around the world.”

He bowled on the PBA Senior Tour for eight years starting in 1989. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had bowling,” Hoppe said.

In 2016, Hoppe was inducted into the Washington State USBC Hall of Fame.

“You coach more than just bowling. You have to understand temperament,” Hoppe said. “You’ve got to have an understanding of why people behave the way people behave.”

Hoppe is a founding member of The International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructors Association, a nonprofit that aims to educate training for professionals and pro shops.

“Every time Ron gives a lesson I’m like a fly on the wall listening,” Miller said.

Miller’s wife, Laurie, was in a bowling league in the late ‘90s when she got him interested in the sport.

“He just went crazy bowling. He would spend all day long bowling until his fingers bled,” she said.

Buying his first ball was expensive.

“So, the next day I go out to my garage and get my drill press and start figuring out how to drill my own bowling balls,” Miller said.

From there, he took drilling lessons and started buying equipment.

“It kind of just evolved. I didn’t know any of this was actually the plan,” Laurie Miller said, gesturing to the front room. The shop was named after the Millers’ daughter.

Miller expanded the shop by fitting it with a lane and pinsetter. Hoppe came into the picture after the upgrade.

Haley’s welcomes bowlers of all ages.

“I come here for equipment and my children come here for lessons,” said Michael Lennox, a board director for Skagit USBC. “[Hoppe] works with all ages, but the youth really look up to him. He has an innate way of being able to communicate with them on their level.”

Haley’s donates to the local bowling association, helping youth bowlers get equipment they otherwise can’t afford.

“Their philanthropy and their willingness to be able to encourage the sport of bowling here locally has been huge,” Lennox said.

“I’m not a people person,” Hoppe said. “Truth is, I’m a hermit. I’d be happy to go in the woods and live in a cave. But my business, my job, has always been about people.”

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