Pete Cimino has been bowling regularly for the last 68 years, give or take the time when he temporarily lost his eyesight after a work accident and the time around when he suffered a heart attack.
In recent months, the active 87-year-old North Bergen resident has been concentrating on taking care of his ill wife, Gloria, in their North Bergen home.
“Ever since the snow started, I hadn’t been going [bowling],” Cimino said.
In fact, Cimino had not bowled in his regular league at Bowler City in Hackensack since January.
But last Thursday night, something told Cimino that he should give it a try. After all, it was the final night of the season, and he wouldn’t get another chance to see his teammates on the F&G Force until the fall.
One of his teammates, Ted Failla, convinced Cimino to come and bowl for the final night.
His brother Phil, 94, bowls in Lakewood.
Little did Cimino know that he was about to create some history.
During his second game of the evening, Cimino rolled a perfect game of 300. It wasn’t a novelty for Cimino, because it was the 31st time in his storied career that he rolled a 300 game.
But it was the first time he reached perfection in 15 years. And more importantly, Cimino became the oldest person in New Jersey history to bowl a perfect game. The prior record holder, whose name was not immediately known, was 75. Cimino knew that because he always wanted to break that record.
“I always wanted to be the oldest in New Jersey,” Cimino said. “The oldest guy was 75 years and six months.”
Cimino also became the second oldest bowler in the United States to bowl a 300 game. Only Arthur Ulmer of Melbourne, Fla. is older. Mr. Ulmer was 89 years, six months when he rolled his perfect game on Dec. 10, 2010 in the Leisure Seniors League.
Cimino pointed out that he rolled perfection in a regular league with bowlers younger than half his age.
Cimino rolled a conventional 180 in his first game of the evening, then somehow caught fire in the second game, rolling strike after strike. Incredibly, there was another bowler on the lane to the left of Cimino, a fellow North Bergen native named Steve Koskinen, who was also rolling a perfect game at the same time. Cimino and Koskinen have known each other for years and Cimino, who was also once the bowling coach at North Bergen High School, helped Koskinen with his approach a few years ago.
Needless to say, that drew the attention of the entire crowd at Bowler City, anticipating double perfection.
Kept it going
“We both went all the way to the 10th frame, both working on 300 games,” Cimino said. “I let him go first and on that throw, Steve left the 7-pin,” Cimino said. “I knew from the eighth frame on that I was going to do it. I just felt it. But I felt the pressure now that I had to beat the kid.”
Koskinen is a kid in Cimino’s eyes, but he’s actually in his 50s. He finished his duel with Cimino with a score of 289.
Cimino threw his 11th ball and thought the perfect game was over.
“I thought I screwed up,” Cimino said.
But on the 12th and final throw, Cimino was money.
“I threw the ball and turned away,” Cimino said. “I walked away and didn’t even look. I knew I had it.”
According to Cimino’s daughter, Gloria James, that’s her father’s trademark.
“When he knows he has a strike, he turns and walks away,” she said.
“It was half way down the lane, but I knew it was there,” Cimino said.
Failla, who was bowling with his former coach and long-time teammate, couldn’t believe the octogenarian’s reaction.
“He was jumping up and down like a 12-year-old,” Failla said. “You should have seen him. It was great. He’s a legend to us. We call him, ‘The Legend.’ He’s the most pleasant guy to bowl with. He’s always having fun and he’s always helping others out. It was great, because he was on this team with a bunch of young kids and he’s always trying to beat them.”
“That’s the big thing,” Cimino said. “I love beating the young kids. They think it’s in the ball and how hard you throw it, but I know it’s all in the head.”
Incredibly, Cimino threw seven straight strikes in his third game, giving him a string of 19 straight strikes, before fading somewhat in the third game, finishing with a score of 200. But it was definitely a night to remember.
Born in the 1920s
Born May 1, 1924, Cimino never bowled a game in his life until he was 18 years old, when he went to the old Columbia Lanes in North Bergen to see some of the all-time great bowlers perform.
“I used to set up their pins, all the great ones, like Joe Falcaro, who was the world champ at that time,” Cimino said of Falcaro, who won the world championship in 1929 and was one of the first stars of the sport. “I watched the reception that these champion bowlers received and I wanted the same thing. That’s how I got into it.”
Cimino said that when he first threw a bowling ball, it headed right into the gutter.
“People started laughing at me,” Cimino said. “I was throwing a ladies’ ball. Six months later, I got so good that no one could beat me.”
Cimino had to walk away from the sport twice. While working as a machine operator for Hackensack Cable Company, he caught a piece of metal in his eye that caused him to lose sight in that eye for more than two years. But he recovered and returned to bowling.
At the age of 42, Cimino suffered a heart attack that kept him away from the lanes for five years, but he couldn’t stay away from the sport he loved.
Cimino has also coached hundreds of bowlers over the years, ranging from revamping entire styles to giving small pointers. He was the coach at Cliffside Park and North Bergen high schools, coached a North Bergen ladies’ league, worked with youngsters.
“And I never charged anyone,” Cimino said. “I told that once to someone and they said, ‘Are you crazy? You could make a lot of money.’ But that’s not me.”
Later in life, Cimino worked in security for NY Waterway and the ferry service, before retiring officially about seven years ago, right around the time he turned 80.
He recalled one incident he had while doing security work.
In 1995, famed director Martin Mann was shooting the movie “Heat” on the Weehawken waterfront. A guy approached Cimino and asked if he knew him. It was Al Pacino.
“I said, ‘Did I ever bowl against you?’” Cimino said. “I mean, I knew he looked like Al Pacino. I didn’t think it was him.”
Cimino still has his quick wit and his obvious bowling skill going full force at his age.
“Some guys tell me that they just hope to hold the ball up at my age,” Cimino said. “A lot of guys slow down as they get older. I still take the same five-step approach I always did when I bowl. I’ve been the same way since I started.”
Added Cimino, “Is it remarkable? Others may think so, but not me. A lot of people didn’t think I could do it, but I made believers out of them. I think it’s pretty rare, because I wasn’t bowling regularly, but now, it makes me want to bowl more. It had been a long time since my last perfect game. I didn’t know if I would be able to do it again.”
Cimino is showing no signs of letting up. Why should he? Longevity is definitely in his genes, considering he has a 94-year-old brother Phil who still regularly bowls in Lakewood, and an 84-year-old brother Frank, who resides in North Bergen.
“A lot of people see me and they all laugh at me,” Cimino said. “Well, who’s laughing now?”
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.