Russ Nealey is one of a few Maine bowlers who has been successful for five decades, and he’ll be honored for those achievements when he is inducted into the International Candlepin Bowling Association Hall of Fame tonight in Bradford, Mass.
“I was obviously pretty happy [when learning about the induction]. From Maine, there’s Charlie Milan, Dot Petty and Herb McBride that I know of [in the hall],” Nealey said. “That’s pretty select company. It’s pretty nice after 40 years of work.”
That work has included world, ICBA, international or state tourney titles in five different decades along with 30 state titles in singles, doubles and team competitions.
Nealey, 65, is being inducted by the ICBA for his competitive ability along with a 2008 class that includes Massachusetts bowlers John Czernicki, Peter Flynn, Mike Morgan, Tom Morgan, Dick O’Connell and Janet Poch and Tim Lipke of New Hampshire.
The ICBA covers the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Nealey, a Portland native who now lives at Beech Hill Pond in Otis, is retired and spends six months each year in Florida after a career as a teacher, coach and businessman. He no longer bowls competitively in state and international tourneys, but does bowl in leagues at the Bangor-Brewer Bowling Lanes in Brewer.
A love of the sport helped Nealey be successful and stay involved since he first started competing in 1962.
“I loved the competition and made so many friends from Canada to Massachusetts. It’s been a great time,” he said. “This was the sport I chose and I loved every match whether I won or lost. When I did win, it was special, especially against topnotch bowlers like Charlie and Chip Carson.”
Nealey is proud of his many career bowling accomplishments but has a few special ones such as capturing the World team tourney in 1967 in Haverhill, Mass.
“We were a team from Maine and nobody expected us to win,” he said.
Another highlight was coming back to win the world singles title in 1989 after trailing the first day of competition by 100 pins and entering the final string trailing by 40.
Other special achievements Nealey recalled were winning the Maine Pro Tour three straight years, being named the Maine Pro Bowler of the Year five times, winning a World team title with longtime friend Milan in 2001 and being the only Maine bowler to win the ICBA Pro Bowler of the Year.
A lot of time and hard work on the lanes helped enable Nealey’s success.
“It’s a lot of perseverance, trying to emulate people like Charlie — who is one of the best. I’ve looked up to him a lot of years,” Nealey said. “I’ve bowled against everyone who was good at the time, and having success against them was very important to me.”
Nealey also has won seven Maine Open all-events state titles. His career highs are: 205 (single), 499 (three strings), 793 (five strings), and 1,485 (10 strings).