Remembering bowling legend Dr. Max Skelton of Ada

Dr. Max Skelton

Oklahoma Bowling legend Dr. Max Skelton of Ada has passed away at the age of 89. Over the years, Skelton was recognized as both an excellent bowler and excellent bowling administrator. He became only the third Oklahoman to serve as the President of the 400,000 plus member American Bowling Congress (ABC) in 1990. Two years later he became the second president of the United States Tenpin Bowling Federation (USTBF) and led the organizations efforts to promote bowling as an Olympic sport.

Skelton was Superintendent of the Ada City Schools from 1967 to 1980. He later served as Superintendent and then Assistant Superintendent at Little Axe. He was also involved in the oil business and operated a cattle ranch south of Fittstown. 

Skelton is a native of Blackwell. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Central State University and a master’s and doctor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. Funeral arrangements and complete obituary information are expected to be announced soon.

Skelton was inducted into the ABC Hall of Fame in 2002 in the Meritorious Service Category. At that time, he was cited for “. . . his extraordinary leadership as USA Bowling president that led to the creation of the United States Tenpin Bowling Federation (later USA Bowling) and in representing the best interests of American tenpins in the Federation Internationale des Quilleurs (FIQ) arena.”

The FIQ, now called the International Bowling Federation (IBF) has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee since 1979 as the world governing body for the sport of Bowling.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is his role in helping foster integration after the elimination of ABC’s Caucasian only membership clause in 1950. The 1950 resolution was made “. . . on behalf of all the ethnic Japanese and Chinese bowlers on the West Coast” by an association from Seattle. In a compromise pushed by a number of associations in the south it was left to the local associations to determine who would qualify for membership in their associations. The compromise permitted associations to continue practicing discrimination against minorities.

During his term as Oklahoma City Men’s Bowling Association President the first team of black bowlers was allowed to enter the state bowling tournament. When other teams refused to bowl against them Skelton volunteered his team to so. This move allowed the team to compete in the tournament and played a huge role in integrating the sport of bowling in Oklahoma.

For his bowling skills Skelton was inducted as a charter member into the Hall of Fame of both the Oklahoma State Bowling Association and Oklahoma City Men’s Bowling Association in the superior skills category. He was also inducted into the Ada Bowling Association Hall of Fame in the skills category.

As a bowling administrator, Skelton was the president of the Oklahoma City Men’s Bowling Association (1958-60) and the Oklahoma State Bowling Association (1970). He served over 20 years on the ABC Board of Directors.

Longtime friend, bowling partner and fellow Oklahoma and Oklahoma City bowling Hall of Famer Wayne Hagar said that as great of a bowler as Skelton was, he was an even better person.

“He was a friend to everybody and really a person’s person,” Hagar said. “He didn’t care if you had a high average or a low average, if you were rich or poor.”

No matter how high he rose in the bowling world Hagar said he was always just “plain Max.”

“There was never anything fancy about the way he bowled or the way he lived. He grew up on a farm, got a great education, had a great career, rose to the top of the bowling world and then he went back to the farm.”

“He always knew who he was, where he was and why he was,” said Hagar. “He could get along with and talk to anyone.”

During his time as the President of the USTBF Skelton attended U.S. Olympic Committee meetings advocating for bowling to be a medal sport in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, as well as representing the ABC at the Pan-American Sports Convention in Argentina and the International Bowling Congress Presidium in Rome among other meetings and events.

Skelton’s stepson Kent Thompson said his parents travelled the world attending meetings and accompanying different US Teams in competitions during his time as a national bowling administrator. Stops included Australia, Japan, China, and several countries in Europe and South America.

“Bowling was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul,” said Thompson, “Dad got to march in the ceremonies with the USA Bowling team and the rest of the Olympians.”

Skelton worked with others to establish the USTBF to comply with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Constitution and the Amateur Sports Act adopted by Congress in 1978. In 2005, a number of bowling organizations, including the ABC and the USTBF as well as organizations representing female and youth bowlers, banded together to form the United States Bowling Congress (USBC). Today, the organization has over 1.4 million members and represents the interests of US Bowling throughout the world including to the various Olympic organizations and to the FIQ.

The IBF says that bowling is one of the largest and best organized sports in the world with over 100 million participants, 10 million competitors and 250,000 bowling lanes. The IBF now has member federations in 134 countries. It is the main organization advocating bowling as an Olympic sport.

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