Ron Gooch did not total 300 pins when he bowled a pair of recent games, but they are probably the second and third most memorable games of his life.
A legally blind Morris resident who drew national attention for bowling a 300 at Echo Lanes in 2010, Gooch traveled to Nevada in February. There, he played a central role in a filmed skit that also featured PBA veteran Dave Wodka. Thinking Gooch was an anonymous camera operator, Wodka was coerced into bowling a game blindfolded, as did Gooch before his identity was later revealed.
For years, Gooch has bowled for a team sponsored by Clayton's Tap at Echo Lanes. He bowled on both Mondays and Wednesdays for years before recently paring down to just Mondays.
According to Gooch, one of the news stories about his 300 caught the eye of David Denny, who is a director for a United Kingdom-based media company called Icon Films. In it, Gooch was wearing a shirt with a Clayton's Tap logo, which caused Denny to try and contact Gooch through the tavern.
Clayton's Tap owner Scott Darlington emailed Denny and gave him Gooch's phone number. After several weeks passed without Gooch hearing from Icon Films, Darlington sent Denny another email. Denny called Gooch the next day.
"He tells me about this idea he has, about a skit he wants to do," Gooch said. "He asks if I'm interested in being flown out to Las Vegas in February to bowl, blindfolded, against a professional bowler. I say, I can't imagine anybody wouldn't want to go to Las Vegas and your plane ticket and hotel paid for."
In the weeks leading up to the trip, Gooch got a head start on bowling (completely) blind.
"I would sneak out to (Echo Lanes) and bowl blindfolded on occasion," Gooch said. "It wasn't working out too well for me, but I kept trying."
Two coincidences allowed Gooch to be joined in Nevada by family and friends. His father and stepmother were planning to be in Phoenix anyway, to visit his sister. His sister ended up renting a condo in Nevada during the time Ron was there. And shortly after Gooch called Darlington to tell him that Denny had called him, Darlington found out he was headed to Nevada anyway.
"Right after (Gooch) called me and said David Denny had called, I called my wife and said Ron's going out in February to bowl blindfolded against a professional bowler," Darlington said. "She said, 'We're going out in February to see Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.' Everything worked out just perfect."
Bowling with a pro
While Gooch was flown into Vegas, he did not stay in the hotel provided for him there, opting instead to stay with his family. He did not bowl in Vegas, either, as the Boulder Bowl in Boulder City, Nev. was chosen as the site of the skit.
Before Wodka entered the facility, Gooch was disguised as one of the three camera operators.
"They had to teach me how to run the camera," Gooch said. "All three of us were in bowling shoes and stuff so we all look the same. I'm the one in the middle. I get to say 'Action!' and everything.
"Then (Wodka) comes in and bowls five strikes in a row, just like that. David Denny says, 'OK, you're warmed up.' Then he blindfolds him and says, 'What we want to do is see how good you can bowl like that. Can you bowl a 100?' (Dave) says he thinks he can, and David Denny says, "For every pin over 100, I'll give you $10. For every pin you are under 100, you have to give me a buck.'"
While blindfolded, Wodka managed to bowl a 75.
"David Denny says, 'Wait a minute now. You're a professional bowler, and that's the best you can do. What do you think a total stranger can bowl like that?'" Gooch said. "(Wodka) says, 'Maybe a 30 or a 40.' Then David Denny says, 'I want you to pick anyone you want, and I'll bet you they can beat a 30 or a 40.
"At first, (Wodka) tried to pick the other camera guy, but he was wearing a bunch of equipment and wires. He says, 'I'll do it, but you'll have to give me a half-hour to get ready.' So then he picked me instead."
Gooch is used to bowling with limited eyesight. He had no such luxury with which he had to try to beat Wodka's 75.
"They put that blindfold on you and then they have to walk you up to a spot right in front of the lane. You're totally blind the whole time," Gooch said. "Then I had to bowl my game. I bowled a 74, so he beat me by a pin."
Once Gooch had finished bowling, Denny erased the anonymity of Wodka's opponent.
"After this is all over and done with, they brought the two of us together and said, 'This is Ron Gooch, the blind bowler who had the 300,'" Gooch said. "(Wodka) says, 'Yeah, I saw that. We all heard about that.' He shook my hand. He was the nicest guy you'll ever meet."
Before the day ended, Gooch and Wodka faced off again, sans blindfolds.
"I asked him, 'Can you do one thing for me,' and he says, 'Sure. Anything.' I asked him to bowl one game with me without the blindfold, just so I can say I bowled with a professional bowler," Gooch said. "Of course, he's in his own shoes and has his own ball and I have house shoes and a house bowl, but I actually had the lead into the eighth frame. I had a 5-7 split in the ninth, and if I had gotten a strike there, I would have won. He ended up beating me, 214-199. Of course, the whole bowling alley was cheering for me."
Fifteen minutes, extended
In the aftermath the Morris Daily Herald's initial report on the 300 game Gooch bowled, he was contacted by numerous media outlets. He did in-studio interviews with the WGN and FOX television stations in Chicago, and says he participated in 14 radio interviews. Most of the interviews were with Chicagoland and Illinois reporters, though national outlets like Deadspin.com, AOL News and NPR had items on his story.
"My 15 minutes of fame must not be done yet. It has been phenomenal," Gooch said. "And David Denny told me that this may not be it for me. He says, 'You may have even more people calling you after this.'
"My reaction is that it's a little bit flattering. It's not something I would have expected to happen to a little hometown schmuck like myself. Of course, I have gotten no coin because of it, but I did get a free trip to Vegas out of it, which was nice, and I won $700 in Vegas."
Darlington says that the Icon Films crew told him that the production would be released in six to eight months, and that Denny hopes it will be televised in the U.S. He shared an email he received from Denny after the shooting with the Herald.
"He was a complete legend on the day," Denny wrote about Gooch in the email, "and the scene couldn't have gone better."