A dozen youths from Minnesota will have an extra incentive to shine when they step to the lanes at next month’s national Junior Gold Championships put on by U.S. Bowling Congress (USBC). They will be rolling for the man who got them there.
For more than 20 years, Chris Gamec ran the Minnesota Junior Bowlers Tour, a program through which hundreds of students 21 and younger honed their skills at monthly tournaments and collectively won more than $850,000 in scholarships to pay for postsecondary education. Some went on to become collegiate champions.
“We had some great success stories,” said Dave Marget, a Champlin resident who earned enough money to pay for three years of college while he was in the program. “He donated his time and money to put these on. He was dedicated to bowling and making us better.”
Gamec, of St. Paul, died May 18 of health complications related to diabetes. He was 44.
It was natural that Gamec was passionate about bowling, and about sharing his passion with the generation behind him. He picked up the sport as a preteen while tagging along with his mother, Elaine, who bowled in summer leagues and spent many years running youth leagues at Texa Tonka Lanes in St. Louis Park. At age 14, Chris started collecting stats while participating in youth bowling tournaments. He continued through the 1980s and early ’90s.
He also coached younger bowlers, said Elaine, of Robbinsdale, who is a member of the Minneapolis USBC Association Hall of Fame. Chris may be inducted, too. He was placed on the association’s 2014 ballot.
Known for his sassy humor and a booming voice that carried over the public address systems in alleys across the state, Gamec went to great lengths to challenge boys and girls to improve their game. Often he arranged for the host bowling center at youth tournaments to put oil in strategic spots on the lanes to make things more difficult, forcing participants to carefully choose their shots and figure out which ball to use, said Jane Sundin, who worked on the tournament desk.
Gamec was affectionately known as “Tour Boss Chris” because his tournaments had strict rules. Khakis were a must, and baseball caps were forbidden. Bad language was not allowed, and there even were fines for incorrect score sheets.
“This was not just about bowling and scholarships. He had an amazing set of rules and a structure that kids could count on, and he ran it by the book,” Sundin said.
“He looked at these kids as if they were his kids. When they came out of the tournaments, they were responsible and respectful adults. Parents loved him for what he did.”
Each year, Gamec honored one bowler with a sportsmanship award. In 1996, the Bowling Proprietors Association of Minnesota honored Gamec with the Tell ’em So award for his dedication and service to youth and bowling promotion. It was the same year that Gamec rolled his only perfect game of 300.
Gamec was born in Edina and grew up in Plymouth. He graduated in 1988 from Wayzata High School and played saxophone in the school’s marching band. He studied for two years at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He worked in tech support at CareFusion, a company that makes and services medical devices.
Gamec is also survived by a brother, Jeff, of Monticello, Minn.; two sisters, Tara Heinecke, of Olympia, Wash., and Bonnie Heinecke, of Prior Lake, and longtime friend Dina Hickman, of St. Paul.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 27 at the Cremation Society of Minnesota, 7110 France Av. S., Edina. Visitation will be one hour before.