Jay Robinson made his mark as person and in life
He is not a PBA Hall of Fame inductee but he was simply an outstanding bowler.
Jay Robinson passed away this past weekend at the age of 79 at his home in Hemet, California.
Who is Jay Robinson?
Robinson won three PBA titles but he was on the precipice of greatness, reaching 11 championship matches, losing several despite bowling well. Robinson had 31 top five finishes in his illustrious career.
In 1973, Robinson made a name for himself, winning his first PBA title at the Denver Open. He defeated Gus Lampo in the title match. Lampo would eventually bowl in New Orleans and gave away one of his balls to a close friend of mine.
In 1975, Robinson arrived in Metairie to bowl in the Monroe Max-Air Open at Pelican Lanes.
As a senior in high school at Archbishop Rummel, I bowled in the Pro-Am, as I did annually when the PBA event arrived in town.
In three games of the Pro-Am, you have an opportunity to bowl with three different pros.
One of those was Robinson.
I had seen him win in Denver on ABC television and became a fan of his, with his deadly approach to playing the outside line as well as anyone on tour with his familiar Columbia White Dot caramel ball.
I bought that ball as a result of seeing Robinson bowl.
Then, I bowled with him.
Of all the pros I bowled with in the Pro-Am at a young age, Robinson was the nicest, most engaging of those professionals.
Some are somewhat engaging. Others are a bit distant.
Then, there are those who are simply doing it as an obligation or to familiarize themselves with lane conditions.
The actual tournament began.
As always, I was there at all times outside of school hours.
I spent the entire event following Robinson.
That turned out to be a good strategy and a treat.
Robinson bowled great, truly dominating the field to qualify first after the 24-game match play portion of the competition.
He was in the nationally televised final on ABC, needing to win just one match on March 22 of that memorable year.
Robinson bowled Don Helling of St. Louis in the final, which I attended.
Pelican Lanes was always known as a challenging, difficult house to score in. It is where I grew up and grew up in the sport and the best I could ever average then, at a young age, was 175. I would later go on to average over 200 for a few years with better equipment, more knowledge and on easier lane conditions.
Pelican Lanes also favored left-handers.
Robinson bowled excellent in the final. He hit the pocket nine times. He did not carry well.
Helling, a left-hander, carried well and defeated Robinson 237-213 in the title match.
I was crestfallen. It was Helling’s second PBA win. The other was in 1972, at Pelican Lanes.
I made sure I sought out Jay afterwards. Of course, I was not in the media industry yet. In that industry, I was blessed to cover many PBA and Ladies Pro Bowlers Tournaments in our area. The PBA Tour blessed me with its National Broadcaster of the Year award in 1988 for the coverage I provided to the tour and the sport.
Robinson told me that it was the most disappointed he had ever been in the sport, that he had bowled great on tough conditions, dominated the field and averaged close to 220 on very difficult lane conditions.
There were two memorable performances by Robinson which turned out to be the most difficult to absorb. The first was In New Orleans.
In 1977, Robinson climbed the latter in the PBA National Championship, beating John Wilcox, along with two of the greatest bowlers ever in Mark Roth and Earl Anthony to reach the title match against Tommy Hudson.
Robinson made a slew of good shots but got few breaks with a lack of carry and lost 206-200. With a chance to win the championship, Robinson made a great shot but left a solid 10-pin in the tenth frame. Hudson then stepped up and struck out to win it.
In the 1970’s, there were souvenir cups that you could buy at bowling centers with soft drink products which had select top professional bowlers on them.
Once of those was Robinson.
I still have that cup somewhere.
In 1979, Don Carter Lanes in Harvey was all the rage.
The state-of-the-art bowling center had 64 lanes, the most ever in our metropolitan area. Initially, it had a wait staff driving around on carts to serve patrons. There was wall-to-wall carpet, sliding doors and elegance.
Eventually, Don Carter’s had a general manager.
His name was Jay Robinson.
My bowling hero had come to the New Orleans area to run the beautiful facility.
He would eventually be moved to the new Don Carter’s center in Kenner, which opened in 1982. Robinson arrived in Kenner a couple of years later as he would have a second career running bowling centers in Florida, Tennessee, and, of course, in Louisiana.
Bowling in the New Orleans area improved dramatically with the arrival of Robinson. I introduced my wife, Denise, to the sport and we bowled together in Kenner with the Robinson influence and company in full force. My favorite bowler had become my friend.
He and his wonderful wife, Cheryl, promoted the sport, courted participants, offered instruction, created new leagues, including a scratch league, and made a ton of friends and influenced people every step of the way.
While Jay was a superb bowler, Cheryl was even more accomplished.
As Cheryl Kominsky, she was one of the top five female bowlers in the world.
She was elected to the U.S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in 2011.
The twain of the two bowling careers collided in 1973.
Kominsky met Robinson in Hawaii on the way back from a tournament in Japan. Robinson was bowling in a tournament on the island.
The two talented bowlers hit if off and married two years later.
Both went on to win the AMF Grand Prix event, the first husband-and-wife team to accomplish the feat. Jay won it in 1977, beating Roth in the title match. Cheryl matched that win in 1978.
Aside from the Grand Prix win and the Denver victory, Robinson won his third PBA title in Trenton, New Jersey at the Great Adventure Open in 1976, beating Rich Carrubba in the championship game.
Ronnie Thibodaux worked under Robinson at Don Carter’s in Kenner for five years from 1984-89 before Robinson was called to work in Florida by the Don Carter chain.
“What he brought to the table was a well-oiled machine,” Thibodeaux said. “We had growth annually in sales and participation in the sport. We were likely around 1,600 league bowlers.”
While Robinson and his wife built the number of bowlers at Don Carter’s there was a heavy focus placed on youth as well.
“One of his greatest successes was starting junior leagues, creating more interest in the sport,” Thibodeaux said. “We had double-shifts every night, a league on Saturday and a small league on Sunday. We started red-pin bowling and created and brought in a slew of tournaments. We were always busy. That was a credit to Jay and Cheryl.”
Thibodeaux is a long-time friend whom I met through bowling and we bowled together. His lovely wife, Jeannine, watched our daughter when she was young. To say that Robinson made an impact on Thibodaux is a vast understatement.
“To me, he meant everything,” Thibodeaux said. “He was a true mentor, a father-figure. I never knew him as a professional bowler. I knew him as Jay Robinson, who imparted great life experience to me which I have used my entire working career. I was an obnoxious, arrogant young man who thought he knew everything.”
Thibodaux learned from Robinson’s style.
“Jay was soft-handed but firm,” Thibodeaux said. “He taught me how to treat people with respect. He knew how to handle angry customers and eventually had them eating out of his hands. He related so well to people. He was very patient, knowledgeable.”
The lessons learned proved invaluable.
“He taught me how to be a better father, a better husband, a better man,” Thibodeaux said. “We went out to California to see him 15 years after he left. We sat down, shed a lot of tears and I thanked him. He said I gave him as much back. I love the man.”
Now, Thibodaux plans on heading back to California to pay final respects to his mentor.
I truly wish I could as well.
Robinson was my favorite bowler as an adolescent and was a great friend as an adult. He loved bowling. He loved people. He loved his faith.
There are a small group of people who have made their mark in lasting fashion on bowling in the New Orleans area.
That list must start with the late, great Dean Courtade. The Fazzio family ranks right up there. So, too do names like Steve Dimak Sr. and Lanson Chien. You can add Betty Chien to that list, among others.
Robinson was not here for a lifetime but his contributions to the sport here will last a lifetime.
While Cheryl is a Hall of Fame inductee, Jay was a Hall of Fame ambassador for the sport in the New Orleans area and a Hall of Fame person.
I kept that caramel white-dot ball into the current century, long after that plastic surface animal had long outlived its useful purpose as urethane and reactive resin became the rage in the sport. It always reminded me of Jay.
May the Lord truly bless Cheryl and all family members and provide comfort. You are in my mind’s eye as I see that mustache, that quick, short approach and that caramel ball climbing from the fifth board solidly into the 1-3 pocket.
Robinson leaves this earth without the ten-pin standing. He struck the industry in perfect game fashion.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…