Duke, who practices at Clermont Lanes in Clermont, Fla., was practicing at the center just before leaving for the USBC Masters in October, the first event of the 2007-08 Denny’s PBA Tour season. Noel approached Duke about his Special Olympians who bowl in a league at Clermont Lanes every week.
Noel asked Duke, who had seen the kids at the center on occasion, how he should go about fitting some of the kids for their own bowling balls, indicating they didn’t have balls or shoes of their own. Noel thought the group would enjoy bowling so much more if they had the availability of customized equipment.
Duke took it upon himself to contact Steve Kloempken of Storm and ask him to look into the possibility of sending some bowling balls for the kids. Kloempken liked the idea and he and Dave Simms from Storm sent 14 bowling balls to Duke’s house for the entire Special Olympics team.
In the meantime, Duke also contacted Bobby Lassiter at Etonic and made the same request. Lassiter sent a custom pair of shoes for each of the Olympians. The shoes were gender specific, left- or right-hand specific and were each athlete’s specific size.
“Both companies really stepped up and made a difference in a community other than their own,” Duke said. “They didn’t know any of these people other than knowing it was something I wanted to do. I can’t say enough about both of them. Storm and Etonic really made this happen.”
The equipment was all sent to Duke’s home, where he has a full-service pro shop in his garage. The athletes had gone to a pro shop where their fittings were written down, and all the specs were faxed over to Duke, who did the drilling and mapping in his garage.
Duke met with the first of two groups on the Monday and Tuesday following the Etonic Championship in Cheektowaga, N.Y. He met with the second group following the Lake County Indiana Classic in Merrillville, Ind.
“As a professional bowler, I know the difference between enjoying bowling with and without your equipment. Sometimes we grab a house ball and fling it down there and it’s just not the same game at all,” Duke said. “I thought, ‘what a charge it would be for some of these athletes to not only have their own equipment, but to have equipment that was customized by someone who knows what they’re doing.’ I took it upon myself to just make a couple calls for these athletes and to get the response I did was just fantastic.
“To see the faces of these athletes when they received their equipment, it was like Christmas that day.”