In the sport of lawn bowls fathers often introduce their sons to the game so they can play together. A distance of 2000 miles between son Rob Behncke and his father Jon Behncke presented challenges to that dream, but Rob of Milwaukee WI and Jon of Sun City AZ held on to the hope that they would play bowls as teammates, and maybe even compete against each other in tournaments. They talked about how exciting it would be if they both qualified for the U.S. National Championships, where they would square off against one another as champions of different divisions. Sadly, it was a dream that could not be realized when Rob’s father, Jon, died of cancer in June 2013.
Rob and Jon Behncke both picked up a lawn bowl for the first time in Milwaukee Wisconsin at a family event in 2008. Intrigued by the game, they both began to bowl more regularly in subsequent years, although separately at their clubs in Wisconsin and Arizona. However, in February 2012 Rob and Jon bowled together for the first time at the South Central Division Open. “It was very special, competing on the greens together with my pop,” Rob reports.
Father and son continued to compete in their own clubs and divisions, and for a while it looked like playing in the same National Championships might become a reality. Rob recalls, “In the spring of 2012 my dad caught fire during the singles playdowns. He went undefeated and earned a spot to represent the South Central Division.” An athlete who runs marathons and competes in bike races, the younger Rob had developed into a competitive bowler, but narrowly missed out qualifying from the Central Division. The dream of a Father-Son competition at the National Championships would have to be put on hold for at least another year.
Then tragedy struck. Rob says, “Sadly, Dad was diagnosed with cancer in late August of 2012. Two weeks before the national tournament in San Diego he was feeling very weak from intense chemotherapy and pulled out.” Jon continued to battle cancer over the winter but succumbed to the dreaded disease in June of this year.
With a heavy heart but on a mission to honor his father, Rob began the 2013 bowls season intent on qualifying for the U.S. National Championships. This time Rob Behncke and partner Bob Schneider went undefeated in the Central Division playdowns, sending Rob on his way to his first championships at the Santa Anita Lawn Bowling Club on October 16-20.
When Rob takes to the green, he will play his best because that is what he does, but he will also be playing with a heart full of memory of his father Jon. Rob concludes,”I have a dog tag I keep with me in my pocket whenever I’m on the greens. On it is (my dad’s) name, date of death, and his thumbprint on the back. We will get to play at national championships together after all.” Good luck, Rob. You honor your father and he is definitely proud of you.
The U.S. National Championship Lawn Bowling Tournament is held annually, with the 48 of the best men’s and women ‘s competitors from around the country, competing over four days for the coveted title of National Champion in singles and pairs disciplines. You can follow Rob’s results and all the games of the U.S. National Championships, Oct 16-20 at — www.bowlsusa.us.
Written by Steve Nelson