Throwback Thursday 9/25/14: “Mr. Sponsor”

“Ray Colman nearing 50 years of backing area bowling teams

When it comes to supporting local bowling, it’s unlikely that anyone in the Quad-Cities has been more enthusiastically active than Rock Islander Ray Colman, who has been doing business as Colman Florists for nearly 40 years.

He’s not so active now, with his children taking over much of the day-to-day operation of the shop, but he’s still one of the area’s No. 1 sponsors of bowling.

Ray, who’s won many pin championships himself, lent his name (and money) to a team for the first time in 1933, the year he opened his shop, and he’s never stopped.

“I used to sponsor 18 teams at once, but that was just too many and I’ve cut down quite a bit over the years,” Ray admits.

But he still sponsors teams in men’s and women’s leagues, and a few mixed teams as well.

Colman, who helped reorganize Rock Island’s City League and was a strong early supporter of the Rock Island Women’s League, is taking two teams to the ABC tournament this year, including an all-lefthanders unit that he bowls on himself.

Both teams are members of the City League, in recent years challenging all comers as claimant to the title of the Quad-Cities’ toughest league.

Colman, who organized the annual rolloff among the top scorers in the Rock Island City Tournament, honoring Rock Island bowlers who have died, doesn’t have any idea how many teams he’s sponsored over the years, but it’s a safe bet there have been several hundred.

Ray’s been going to the ABC now for 27 years, and has been a sponsor there most of those years. He still recalls the 1950 event at Columbus, Ohio, as one of his biggest thrills in the sport.

“I was sponsoring a team that included Walt Selle and Joe Spanich, and they rolled a 1342 in the doubles event, good for first place at the time. As a matter of fact, it held up for several weeks.”

“I think that Walt’s score – a 700 – was the only sanctioned one he ever shot, but he sure picked a good time to do it.”

Ray doesn’t like to say much about his sponsoring teams.

“I think I get a lot of good out of it for my business,” he says, “and a lot of it is deductible anyhow. But mainly I sponsor teams because the game needs sponsors, and I like the game.”

“A lot of people I sponsor really appreciate it, and they show it when it comes time to buy flowers. Others don’t, but then no one is perfect. I just don’t worry about them.”

Colman doesn’t confine his bowling activity to the Quad-Cities by any means, traveling far and wide to compete in tournaments.

He’s had some big moments on the tourney trail, once missing by a single pin winning a $1,000 tournament at Atlantic City, N.J., following the 1949 ABC.

“I shot at 2 A.M. and rolled a 1095 total. Joe Morris of Detroit rolled a 1096 and won the $1,000. Things weren’t quite as well regulated then as now. Second place paid $50.”

One of the marks of Colman’s teams has been their outstanding uniforms.

“Many years ago, in Columbus, we were told we had the best-dressed team in the tournament. The shirts each had different flower designs worked into the material, and even in those days they cost about $50 each,” Ray recalls.

That’s one of his pet peeves, by the way. “I hate to see bowlers not wearing their sponsors’ shirts,” he says. “It’s about the only promotional value most of the sponsors get.”

“One night, when I’d decided to cut down on my sponsorships, I walked into a house where one of my teams was bowling. I was going to buy them a drink, but no one was wearing our shirts. I decided that would be a good place to start cutting down.”

“It makes me mad when I see a team bowling under a beer sponsor, for instance, and drinking another brand of beer.”

Ray says he gets a lot of mileage out of sponsoring teams at the ABC. “I belong to FTD, and people in other cities see my business name on our shirts.”

“Then, when they want to order flowers in Rock Island, they often think of Colman’s. One year, I got 142 orders for a funeral because we had a team at the ABC in Cleveland that year.”

Among the championships won by Ray over the years is the Argus Singles Classic. Ray rolled an 1171, missing the existing record by a single pin, to capture first place in 1960 when it was held at Bowladrome Lanes after fire had destroyed the original Central Bowl.

He’s gotten a lot out of bowling, but not nearly as much as he’s put into it. It’s just all part of a life-long love affair with bowling for Rock Island’s Mr. Sponsor.”

-The Rock Island Argus
April 4, 1976

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