George Pappas has lived a bowling life
Tuesday, May. 06, 2014

George Pappas has lived a bowling life

    Former professional bowler and Hall of Famer George Pappas at George Pappas' Victory Lanes in Mooresville, one of two bowling centers he owns.
    Former professional bowler and Hall of Famer George Pappas, in action during his final years on the PBA Tour.
    Former professional bowler and Hall of Famer George Pappas, a Charlotte native who now lives in Cornelius, in action during his final years on the PBA Tour.

Growing up around a bowling alley had a profound influence on George Pappas’ life.

Bowling became a profession for Pappas, who spent more than 20 years on the Professional Bowlers Association and other pro tours, and is enshrined in the PBA’s Hall of Fame.

While Pappas is no longer a touring pro, the sport is still very much a part of his life, with two bowling centers in North Carolina bearing his name: George Pappas’ Victory Lanes in Mooresville and George Pappas’ Liberty Lanes in Gastonia.

“It’s happened one step at a time,” said the 68-year-old Pappas, who moved to Cornelius in 1994. “I owe my career to several people … and it came to where it is now.”

Pappas’ father, Nick Pappas, owned a restaurant above the old Morehead Lanes facility in Charlotte. From age 6, the younger Pappas spent his days there, playing duckpins – a version of bowling that uses smaller pins and balls.

“When I was 12, one of the guys at the bowling center said that if I really wanted to be involved in bowling, I’d have to learn how to play ‘ten pins,’ (today’s version of bowling)” Pappas said. “I really didn’t like ten pins, I liked duckpins. But he said the future of bowling was in ten pins, so I switched.”

Pappas began spending all of his free time at the old Coliseum Lanes in Charlotte, using the money earned from his paper route to pay for games. But owner Thomas Cavalaris began letting him bowl for free once he learned about Pappas’ career goal.

“He once asked me what I wanted to do with my life,” Pappas said. “I said, ‘Mr. Tommy, I want to be a pro bowler.’ He looked at me, smiles and said ‘I thought you were going to say that.’ I never had to pay for another game after that. ...

“I practiced every day for 1,000 consecutive days,” Pappas said. “I never missed a day – I bowled Christmas, New Year’s, every single day.”

With the free time on the lanes and coaching from fellow bowler Manuel Perada, Pappas improved his game to the point where he felt he was ready to tackle the pro tour.

His first year as a pro – in 1966, just after he graduated from Myers Park High School – was an eye-opener for Pappas. He only made money in one tournament.

“I bowled three tournaments, right out of high school,” he said. “I figured I better get an education, so I went to CPCC.”

After graduating with a business degree from Central Piedmont Community College in 1968, Pappas tried the PBA Tour again the following year with help from his uncle, Steve Fellows, who backed his expenses for the first five tournaments that season.

It was at the final tournament that Pappas got his big break with the help of the late Billy Hardwick, an 18-time winner on the PBA Tour and the first bowler to claim the PBA’s “triple crown” – the U.S. Open, PBA Nationals and Tournament of Champions.

“We’re in St. Louis … and I asked him if he knew of someone who would sponsor me,” Pappas said. “He said, ‘Funny you should mention that … wait here, I’ll be back in five minutes.’ He comes back and said ‘I’ve got you a contract with HTS Corp. for the next year.’

“Now, HTS only sponsored champions – you had to win on the pro tour for them to sponsor you; if you didn’t win, they wouldn’t pick you up. But Billy said ‘They think you’re going to win.’ The next year, I won two tournaments, but it was Billy that sold them on me.”

From there, Pappas’ career took off, with 10 PBA Tour titles, including the Tournament of Champions in 1979, and two more on the PBA50 Tour (for bowlers 50 and over). He was inducted into the PBA’s Hall of Fame in 1986, and was ranked 33rd in a “top 50” poll conducted by the PBA for its 50th-anniversary celebration in 2008.

It was during his heyday years on the PBA Tour when Pappas began thinking of life away from the pro tours. He bought his first bowling center, Park Lanes in Charlotte, in 1983 (he sold it in 2011), and added Liberty Lanes to his holdings in 1994.

Victory Lanes, which opened in 2008, was the first bowling center Pappas had built from the ground up. It has hosted the PBA50 Miller High Life Classic the past six years, and usually draws some of the biggest fields outside of the major tournaments.

“We have a great staff to support these events, and that’s evidenced by the turnout we get,” Pappas said. “The bowlers like to come here. It’s really nice, because I’ve got guys who come to me and say ‘the only reason I’m here is because you’re hosting.’ That’s very gratifying, and very humbling too.”

While Pappas gave up following the pro tours years ago, he still competes in several regional PBA events during the year, as well as the PBA50 event hosted at Victory Lanes.

“I felt like this was a good area,” Pappas said. “It was growing, and there was room for two bowling centers. Plus, I wanted to cater to a different bowler than what the other place (the old Moor Lanes, which closed in 2008) was attracting. It’s been a rough road, but we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Bill Kiser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Bill? Email him at

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