November 22, 2019

First Female Million Dollar Bowler Honored

Competing on the Pro Bowlers Tour for 22 years, Aleta Rzepecki-Sill was the first woman bowler to earn $1 million in a career. Now, she’s a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

“It was obviously a milestone and a great accomplishment and there was a lot of pressure but, when it happened, I could finally say that I did it.  I was the first.”

From 1980 to 2001, Sill won 31 professional titles in LPBT-PWBA tour events, including the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1998.  She was the LPBT-PWBA prize money leader six times, from 1983 to 1986, and again in 1993 and 1994. She was named as a WIBC All-American on eight separate occasions.

Sill was chosen by her peers as the tour’s “Player of the Year” in 1984, and was selected by the Bowling Writers Association of America as “Bowler of the Year” in 1984 and 1985. She is the only bowler, male or female, to win pro bowling’s Triple Crown twice.

“My greatest accomplishment probably was winning bowling’s Triple Crown for the second time,” Sill said. “There hasn’t been a male to do it. I had been the only one to win the Triple Crown two times. So I think probably that’s my greatest accomplishment.”

In her pro career, she rolled 31 perfect 300 games and a high series of 815.  Sill’s eight Halls of Fame inductions include the Professional Women Bowlers Association HOF in 1998 and the National Polish-American Sports HOF in 2008. Sill was named a Detroit Dream Team Legendary Athlete, along with MSHOF members Gordie Howe and Joe Louis, and others.

So where did all this greatness begin? Sill’s maternal grandparents, Adeline (Szczawnski) and Steve Zuke, went ahead and paid Sill’s entry fees early on, challenging her to make the most of the opportunity to bowl against the best bowlers in the world.

“The people who have influenced my life are my grandparents,” said Sill. “They are the ones that started me in bowling. I was very close to them. They instilled certain work ethics that, you know, I still stand by.”

In her induction speech for Sill in 2008 into the NPASHF, friend and business partner Michelle Mullen recalled how Sill started in the tenpin sport.

“Coached by Joe Naso and bowling in the typical Saturday morning youth league, this 14 year-old talent was inspired when Naso took her to watch the professional women’s tour that stopped in town for a tournament in 1976,” said Mullen. “That’s when (she) decided she wanted to be a professional bowler.

“Unlike other sports where you are recruited to a college team and are scouted onto a professional sports team, Aleta took the only route available to begin one of the most prolific careers in sports.  She joined the WPBA (Women’s Professional Bowlers Association) in 1980, at 18 years old.”

Sill said: “I just wanted to bowl; I had no expectation.”

Just 18 years old, she finished 11th in her first pro tournament and went on to win her first tournament in 1981.

Another prominent person in Sill’s career is Detroit-area proprietor Mark Voight.

“He always – throughout my career – was there. If I had any questions or (if I needed) a great venue to practice at; Mark was there.”

Yet it was the sense of ownership and Entrepreneurship which Voight also instilled in Sill.

“He talked a lot to me about what I was going to do after bowling and gave us a vision of our company which Michelle and I own. So, he was getting me ready for things after bowling since it doesn’t last forever and its not a sport that you make millions; you are going to have to work after (bowling) so he gave me that vision and I am grateful.”

Sill was on the Ebonite Pro Advisory staff for 13 years. And she retired from Professional bowling in 2001.

“At this point in my life, I just love helping someone bowl better because of what I have learned, she said.”It makes them so happy, and it makes me even happier.”

This caring and compassion by Sill originates from the outstanding example instilled by her grandparents.

“I still go back to the values my grandparents instilled in me…work hard and if you have a dream; try it and go for it. The worst thing is that you don’t succeed but if you never try; you never know if you would (succeed)?

“I thinks that’s what my grandparents said to me early in my career is to try it; (if) that’s what you love, then go for it. That’s what I did, and I’m proud of that.”

Michigan born-and-raised, Sill competed in a sport that does not gain instant recognition. Yet with her “can-do” spirit, she rightfully took her place last week in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

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Written by
George Eichorn

GEORGE EICHORN is the long-time executive director of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association and sports editor and columnist for a Detroit weekly newspaper. For more than three decades, he has covered the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Championships, and Stanley Cup finals. His articles have been published in the Detroit News, Basketball Times, Basketball Digest, Red Wings Magazine, Baseball Bulletin, Sports Fans Journal, Soccer World, and Bowler’s Digest. During the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, he proudly covered the historic “Miracle on Ice” hockey game when the United States shocked the Soviet Union. Through the years, he has won numerous broadcasting and writing awards, and most recently received the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame’s Special Recognition Award. In 2003, he authored a book about the rich history of Michigan sports broadcasting, Detroit Sports Broadcasters: On the Air, for which the late Detroit Tigers broadcast legend, Ernie Harwell, wrote the forward. He is the married father of two daughters and a graduate of Wayne State University.

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Written by George Eichorn
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