Rokuro “Fuzzy” Shimada, the first Asian-American to roll a 300 game in organized play, bowled five perfect games during his professional career.
Actually, Mr. Shimada had six 300s, counting his first at San Carlos
Bowl. But because the American Bowling Congress was a “white men only” association in 1949, the feat was ignored by official record-keepers.
“I held no animosity against the ABC at the time,” Mr. Shimada said
during an interview in the late 1990s. “That was their rule, and I had
to abide by it.”
So Mr. Shimada and other locals organized their own league, the San
Jose Nisei Bowling Association. When ABC’s restrictions were finally lifted in 1953, the Japanese-American was at liberty, finally, to take on top-ranked players.
Mr. Shimada was 70 when he rolled his last 300. In 1997, after the ABC created a Pioneer division to recognize players during its “white-only” era, Mr. Shimada was inducted into the ABC’s Hall of Fame.
On Feb. 8, the “fixture at AMF East Carolina Bowl” in Greenville,
N.C., died of heart failure. At the time, the indefatigable Mr.
Shimada was weeks shy of being in Salt Lake City for the annual
tournament of the JACL-JANBA, or Japanese American Citizens League-Japanese American National Bowling Association.
The former Santa Claran moved to Ayden, N.C., with his second wife, Bonny, in 2001. He was 85.
“Fuzzy was a good partner,” said Gish Endo of being his bowling
teammate. “He was always making cracks,” Endo said, remembering the time the two of them were up against opponents 50 to 100 pounds heavier. “Fuzzy said: `Good thing this isn’t a wrestling match!'”
Mr. Shimada was born Oct. 26, 1921, in Vacaville. Six half-siblings
preceded him in birth, and also the first two of his parents’ 12
children. The sharecroppers tended strawberries, bush berries and row crops there, and in Cordelia and San Jose, before settling in Santa Clara in 1936.
Along the way, Mr. Shimada picked up his nickname after his second-grade teacher complimented his new sweater. As the story goes, classmates began using it, and from that day forward, “Rokuro” was lost to everyone – except his parents, Endo said.
However, Endo’s not so certain how his friend became enamored with bowling. And neither is Mr. Shimada’s barber, Jim Sakamoto, who was a year behind him at Santa Clara High School.
“Fuzzy was a popular baseball, basketball and track star,” Sakamoto
said. But whenever possible, he said, Mr. Shimada was at San Jose
Valley Bowl setting up pins for 4 cents a game.
The budding bowler even landed in jail once for being at the bowling
alley past the 8 p.m. curfew imposed on Japanese-Americans at the
onset of World War II. After his release, he got in trouble there
The Shimadas eventually were relocated to an internment camp at Heart Mountain, Wyo., where they lived for four years.
Upon their return to Santa Clara in 1945, Mr. Shimada joined a bowling league, then was ousted because of his heritage. Not to be
discouraged, he and his friends formed their own league, the San Jose Nisei Bowling Association.
In 1956, Mr. Shimada’s national reputation earned him an invitation to bowl against Ned Day during an exhibition game in Chicago. “Fuzzy didn’t win, but he held his own,” Endo said.
Five years later, Mr. Shimada was drafted by the National Bowling
League’s Dallas Broncos, then traded the same year to the Fresno
Meanwhile, to supplement all of the winner’s “pots” he took home, Mr. Shimada and late friend Sal De Luna ran San Jose Bowling Supply on Santa Clara Street. Later on, and until 1998, Mr. Shimada and his son Steve operated F&S Bowling and Trophy Supply in Mountain View.
Mr. Shimada finished in the top 10 five times in ABC tournaments
during his long career. He earned three Northern California Match Play Crown titles from the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America and won 13 times in annual tournaments organized by JACL-JANBA.
Mr. Shimada was inducted into the Santa Clara Bowling Association’s Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1997, JANBA named him to its Hall of Fame.
The bowling legend was also pretty proud of the $5 chip Reno’s
Sundowner Hotel Casino created in his honor, Mr. Shimada’s younger brother, Ozzie, said.
He showed it around but never boasted about it – nor did he go on
about accomplishments, Ozzie Shimada said.
“But whenever Fuzzy beat the best, his chest would stick out a little.”