Tony Maresca was just 8 years old when he first picked up a bowling ball during a trip to the lanes with his family in New York.
At the time, he thought of bowling as a fun sport to pick up and play during his youth years. Little did he know, it would help shape his life for the better.
Now 71 years old living in Mesa, Maresca has used the sport to put himself through college and support his family. With that, came a milestone only few have achieved in the history of the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships – 50 years of participation.
“I started bowling nationals when I was 17,” Maresca said. “Back then, they would move it all over the country. From 1971 to about 1998 I never missed any events.”
Maresca fell in love with bowling during that first trip to the lanes in 1958. He continued to bowl throughout his high school years at Westwood after the family made the move to Mesa. His first job was at Country Club Bowl, which no longer exists. When he wasn’t bowling, he would often earn a small amount of money selling the Mesa Tribune.
He went on to attend Mesa Community College and Arizona State University. To pay for his tuition, Maresca competed in local tournaments and eventually went on tour with the Professional Bowlers Association, the premier bowling league in the United States.
“I was a member for well over 20 years but bowled actively on the Tour for about two years consistently,” Maresca said. “I had some success. I made a TV show, and I did ok. But I didn’t like the traveling that much.”
Maresca first competed in the USBC Open Championships in 1968 in Cincinnati. His 49 appearances since then weren’t all back-to-back, but they have led to opportunities to supports his family and prolong his career.
He was hired to take over the Arizona State men and women’s bowling programs. He coached the Sun Devils for eight years and won a national championship with both programs in 1981. He also served as the assistant manager and manager of the rec center where the bowling alley was on campus.
During that time, Maresca opened his own pro shop at an alley in north Phoenix. At the time, it was the only pro shop in the area, and he saw it succeed right away. He eventually went on to open a new pro shop at Via Linda Lanes in Scottsdale.
His first shop was sold 15 years ago. His second shop in Scottsdale sold just over two years ago. The memorabilia from both shops currently hang in his garage.
“The fella who bought the shop, we’ve been friends for over 30 years,” Maresca said. “He was actually a bowler of mine at Arizona State. He made me promise him if I ever sold my pro shop, I would let him get the first opportunity to buy it. So, he did.”
Maresca’s bowling career has come with plenty of success. So much to the point he can’t recall the exact number of local championships he has won over the course of his time competing.
He won a national championship with USBC in 1971 and does keep track of the number of pins he’s knocked down in his 50 years with the brand. He’s currently knocked down over 89,000. His ultimate goal is to surpass the 100,000 mark.
Maresca estimates it will take at least seven more years of competition to reach that mark. At that point, he believes he may be content with hanging up his bowling shoes in a competitive setting and transition into more of a recreational mindset.
“That’s my main goal,” Maresca said. “It keeps me going, it keeps me active. It gives me that drive to continue.”
Along with the triumph, bowling has also helped Maresca through difficult times throughout his life.
He lost his wife a couple of years ago and nearly lost his daughter after she suffered from a rare syndrome during her second pregnancy. Only two hospitals in the country treat the condition. One of them is Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.
Through both hardships he stepped away from the game for a period of time. But he always found his way back.
Bowling is more than just a sport to Maresca. It’s helped change his life for the better and gave him the ability to travel all over the world. Even as he grows older, it will always remain close to his heart.
“Bowling is my life,” Maresca said. “Truthfully, it’s all I know. If somebody would have told me I would be doing this for as long as I have, I would’ve told them they were crazy.”