She is a Susan-come-lately to the sports world, not having been an athlete in her youth. But now, as wife and mother, 36-year-old Sue Kogelis of Plymouth is attacking sports with a vengeance and determination that has made her a world champion.
The Maine State Amateur women’s 10-pin bowling champion in 1990 and 1993 recently returned from Brisbane, Australia, where she won gold and bronze medals in the World Masters Games. She won the gold by bowling a 619 for three games.
The score is low because the sponsors want it that way. Lane conditions keep scoring at a minimum. The oil pattern is changed after every team bowls twice, “so you couldn’t get used to something,” Sue explained.
The World Games are patterned after the Olympics with participants competing in approximately 30 sports. But, in the Masters Games, each athlete must be 35 or older. Because the U.S. national women’s team was committed elsewhere and unable to compete, the Women’s International Bowling Congress opened it up to members.
Sue, and Betty Gamble of Hampden, took the WIBC up on the offer, but they had to pay their own way. Bob Kogelis came along to make it a once-in-a-lifetime vacation for the couple.
Sue and Betty were two of more than 20,000 athletes representing 63 countries in Australia. Six hundred were bowlers.
The gold-medal winner will defend her title when Portland, Ore., hosts the next Masters in 1998. And, although she is thrilled to have won the gold in the women’s 35-44 division, it is the bronze medal of which she is most proud.
That means more because, following the competition, the top eight all-event finishers go head-to-head, competing on a seven-game point system. Nervous, facing the best of the best, Sue started out at the bottom with a 124. That she was able to pull herself out of the cellar to finish third was an undeniable thrill. It came down to the last game. She was fighting two for the bronze, and won by four pins. “It was intoxicating,” she said.
The Australians teased her a bit. They said, “we invited the Yanks to come and participate, and this bloody Yank won twice.”
“I cried,” Sue said of the awards ceremony. “I was very proud. Only two other Ameicans (of 30) won medals; each was a silver. We were treated like royalty by the Australians. To hear yourself introduced was just great. Dick Ritger, he’s a famous name in the world of American bowling professionals, awarded me the medal. As I’m crying he’s saying it’s nice to see an American.”
Sue’s success affected the trio’s tour plans, and she jokes “this is a sore point with my traveling companions because we were scheduled to have free time, but I had to go back and compete. I did get ribbed about it.”
“Now, when people ask me how was Australia? I say I saw a lot of the bowling lanes,” Betty Gamble joked. “Really, it was wonderful. The people were great and went out of their way to help us and make sure we were all right. They were so hospitable. What we did see of the country was really pretty.”
Betty didn’t make it as far as Sue, but “just bowling in an international tournament was well worth it. It was wonderful.”
And the missed travel opportunities? “I was just tickled for her,” Betty said. “She really wanted to do well out there. I was tickled she made it all the way. She tried to get us to go and have our free days, but I said no way.”
Sue and Bob Kogelis moved from Connecticut to Maine seven years ago, for the lifestyle. This is where they want to raise their children Sabrina, 8, and Aaron, 5.
Bob works for Cablevision; Sue is an administrative assistant at Penobscot Job Corps and has just coached that coed bowling team to the regional Yankee League Job Corps Championship.
The lady with an infectious laugh who says “obsessive is what comes to mind” when asked how she feels about her sport, said bowling “became addictive” after she took it up to keep a date.
It was 1974 when Bob Kogelis first asked Sue out. He was a bowler; serious enough about the sport to compete in a league. Sue had never bowled before, but she agreed to go anyway. The rest is history.
Sue, the non-bowler, beat Bob, the league bowler.
He accepted defeat with such grace and dignity that not only did he eventually ask her to be his wife, he found professional instruction for the woman he realized had a surprisingly natural talent for his sport.
Andy Mucci, who manages Family Fun Lanes in Bangor where Sue works part time, knows her well and will do anything he can to help her in her chosen sport. But even he was completely taken aback when Sue asked if he would help sponsor her bowl in Australia.
“Australia? I said. Australia, Maine? I couldn’t believe she actually meant Australia,” Mucci said, “but she did.”
Of course he couldn’t quite put up all the money (Sue’s bowling winnings paid half the trip; she saved them for a year) but he was willing to pay her entry fee and provide a uniform.
“She is 101 percent all bowling,” Mucci said. “She breathes it. She is an avid bowler; a die-hard.”
So much so, Sue Kogelis has joined the American Bowling Congress. That’s for men, Mucci said. Being in ABC makes the WIBC member eligibile for men’s tournaments and that, Mucci emphasized, is where the real money is.
Mucci believes Sue Kogelis has the ability to turn professional, and said he would – to the best of his ability – back her all the way if she makes it. Mucci believes she can compete on the Professional Bowlers Association tour.
“Certain people come to me and ask me to sponsor a tournament and this and that,” he said, ” and I usually do.
“But other people come to me who have bigger ideas and more goals and dreams. I think Susan is one of those who wants to go up one more level and, if she ever gets to that level, I will be behind her.”
Although she competes two or three times a week from Bangor to Waterville and throughout New England, Sue has promised Sabrina and Aaron she will stay home for a while. She is not sure they comprehend what she has accomplished but, some day, they will.
For Sue Kogelis, bowling is about competition of a very special sort: individual and team all rolled into one.
“Even though it is a team sport, you’re still pushed as an individual,” she said. “You still count. There are no MVPs on the team because you need every single member contributing.
“And there’s something else. Anybody can do it, if you get the right coaching. You have to be in shape and willing to practice, but you can bowl if you wear glasses, if you’re over 50, or if you’re overweight.
“Bowling doesn’t discriminate, and women can take themselves as high as they want to go.”