By Gene J. Kanak
USBC Communications

Eighty of the nation's best men's and women's collegiate bowling teams will compete for $20,000 in prize money at the 40th Annual Backhaul Direct Hoosier Classic, which will be held Feb. 21-22 at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis.

The 52 teams in the men's division will compete for a total purse of $13,800 with $5,000 going to the winner. There will be 28 teams in the women's division, and they will compete for a total of $6,200 with $2,000 going to the winner.

The $20,000 prize fund - the largest to date in collegiate bowling history - was made possible thanks to a sizable donation from Backhaul Direct President Greg Harris, who became involved with the Hoosier Classic at the request of employee Nick Hoagland, a former IU bowler.

"Nick was very involved with the event, so he asked me if I'd be interested in doing something to help out," said Harris. "When I bowled for Indiana, I saw first hand how difficult it can be for teams to raise funds, so I felt that this was a way to give back to a program that had really given a lot to me."

But the Hoosier Classic's popularity is due to a great deal more than prize money. After all, the event, which is believed to be the longest-running in collegiate bowling, was considered a marquee tournament long before Harris expanded this year's purse.

The Hoosier Classic has been a favorite among coaches and bowlers for years due to its large field, extremely challenging lane conditions and position as the final tune-up event on the schedule before collegiate bowling's postseason begins.

"There are other events that weekend, but this is the event that everyone wants to be at because of its match-play format and the three difficult lane conditions it is contested on," Wichita State Head Coach Gordon Vadakin said. "The tournament is held at a great facility; it's well run, and it gives you the opportunity to see where your team stacks up against some of the other top teams in the country. From that perspective, this event is really looked forward to every year."

Unfortunately, the event is so well regarded that there simply are not enough lanes to accommodate all of the teams that wish to participate. For that reason, tournament manager Bo Shipley has been forced to place several teams on the tournament's waiting list.

"We filled the 80-team field in 10 days this year, so, as of right now, we have 14 teams on the waiting list," Shipley said. "I know that there are some people who are upset because we could not get them in, but that gives you a good idea of what this tournament means to teams in the collegiate bowling world."

Nevertheless, the parties currently involved with the event refuse to hang their hats on the glorious reputation from years past; instead, they focus on finding new and exciting ways to improve the Hoosier Classic for the future.

"This event has grown from 16 teams in Bloomington to 80 teams in Indianapolis, and if we had enough lanes to allow schools to enter multiple squads, we could probably get 140 teams," Hoagland said. "It's great to see this tournament grow like it has because that is a testament to what college bowling is all about. I feel proud to be the administrator and businessperson involved with it."

USBC Collegiate Manager Gary Brown shares Hoagland's view.

"The Hoosier Classic has a storied tradition that has allowed it to become one of the most highly-anticipated events in all of collegiate bowling," Brown said. "USBC Collegiate is excited and proud to have a sponsor like Backhaul Direct come on board to help make this great event even greater."