Steve Lickliter has been bowling since 1973. During that time he has won 17 professional tournaments and has bowled 40 perfect games.
The Beckley native says he has slowed down some, but he’s still going. When the calendar flipped to 2020, the 69-year-old Lickliter felt he was ready to have a strong year.
Then, as with every sport you can think of, the COVID-19 pandemic shut bowling down. Bowling alleys across the nation were closed, making practice impossible.
“I had myself in really good shape when they had to lock us down,” said Lickliter, who will turn 70 in August. “But I’ve been doing stuff with my legs. It won’t take me long to get back once we get going again. When we find out when we can get back on schedule, I’ll get in about eight weeks of training and be ready to go.”
Lickliter loves the game and says he will play “until they bury me.” But his drive is about more than that.
His first victory on the PBA Tour came in Columbia, S.C., in 1981. Since then he has at least one PBA victory in every decade, including the Super Senior South Open in Mooresville, N.C., in 2018.
That’s why one more victory would be important for him. A win would put him in rare company, one of the few to ever raise a trophy at least once in five straight decades. To do that would be strictly a personal achievement.
“That’s just something for me,” Lickliter said. “It doesn’t make any difference to me what everybody else thinks of it. I think this would kind of put that final chapter to it. I’m self-taught, kind of did it the hard way. To win in five decades in any sport, you have to physically be able to get through those early years, and you have to be talented enough to win in those fourth and fifth decades.”
Lickliter picked up the sport when he was 23 after graduating from Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston), where he was a four-sport letterman. He said it took two years before he “started being a guy who looked like he knew how to bowl.”
Once he got serious, Lickliter said he was bowling 120-125 games a week. Part of the secret to his success and longevity has been staying mentally prepared.
“I was bowling between 50 and 80 games per week (before the shutdown),” he said. “I listen to my body more now. When I’m bowling good, I try to bowl often. I get on streaks, the same as when I played basketball. The better I felt, the better my (shooting) percentage. When I’m not bowling well I try to take a little break.
“I practice like I did 30 years ago. I don’t go into a tournament unless I am mentally prepared. That way when I walk through the door I feel like I have a chance to win every tournament. It doesn’t always work that way, but mentally I am where I need to be. Some people say it’s muscle memory, but it’s not. It’s brain memory, and the only way to get there is to practice.”
Lickliter still plays as much as he can, but he also passes on his knowledge. He currently serves as coach to Brooks Martin, a two-time wheelchair national champion out of Charleston, and 13-year-old Makayla Isenhart. He also has worked extensively with fellow Beckley native Summer Jasmin, who now bowls on the PWBA Tour.
Lickliter teamed up with Martin and Lickliter’s cousin Perry Wilson to win an up-and-down tournament in Richmond last September. He is hoping bowling will resume in time to be able to defend that title this fall.
Lickliter says he goes “back and forth” between residences in Beckley and Marietta, Ohio. When it’s clear to do so, he will spend three days a week in Beckley coaching Isenhart and Martin.
But he will also be preparing himself for one final goal.
“I was feeling really good,” Lickliter said. “I feel like it won’t take long to get this win. I will be ready for it.”
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