One who does great deeds but receives little or no recognition for them. This is the definition of an unsung hero. To many, Kelly Warren is just that.
A total of 43 years of blood, sweat and tears has been poured into the sport of Tenpin bowling by Kelly. 22 years as an administrator and 21 years as a high performance athlete.
Tuesday the 28th July 2020 will be a very sad day. It will be Kelly’s last day at the office of Tenpin Bowling Australia.
After 12 years of wonderful service to Tenpin Bowling Australia (TBA), Kelly has decided to seek alternative opportunities and resign from her position as Office Manager. According to Kelly, the time is right.
“I just need a change and a new challenge. An opportunity has come up, and I thought to myself, I am not getting any younger and I need to look after number one – that’s me” said Kelly.
If you have called the TBA office before, there’s a good chance you have spoken to Kelly Warren. If not directly, a staff member may well have explained that they ‘needed to check with Kelly’ for something a little out of the ordinary. Kelly has the answers most of the time and if she doesn’t, she is usually the one that finds the solution.
What you may not know is that Kelly has been involved in the sport her entire life. A rich history that undoubtedly makes her one of Australia’s greatest bowlers; and an outstanding administrator.
Born and raised in Rockhampton, Queensland, Kelly began her bowling journey at the age of six years old. Boxing day on 1977. A date she will never forget – the first day Kelly had a bowl.
“It was at the North Rockhampton Squash bowl; it was my mums’ birthday and we all went bowling” explained Kelly. “My mum joined a league, then the whole family followed. That was it, my whole family was hooked – from there I went on to represent, my brother went on to represent, my parents were in the local association and my dad was director of ATBC back in the day – we were kind of a full-on bowling family from day dot”.
The origins of how Kelly became involved in the sport, is the reason she loves bowling more than any other.
“That’s why I love this sport – you can do it as a family. Our family bowled on a Tuesday night together. I bowled in a team with my brother, a team with my dad, my mum. It’s so diverse – what other sport can you name that allows a family to play together, compete together, have fun together, compete with each other, travel with each other, bowl in championships together. No other sport has that!” described Kelly.
For a decade, bowling was strictly for fun. The bowl was a meeting place for the community – a large community in Rockhampton. It was a place that provided social benefits while keeping active and having a bowl.
As the visits to the bowl grew over the years, so did the relationship with the sport. A desire to compete and test herself against others developed. A pathway of sorts revealed itself.
The first step was to bowl in the Rocky championships. Then came tournaments around central QLD. Before she knew it, Kelly was part of the state champion team. The reward for such an accolade was a trip to her first national championships in Victoria.
“I saw the President’s Shield and said to myself – I want to do that! I started getting serious and wanting to find a way to compete more” said Warren.
The intention turned to reality when Kelly would finally make the Queensland Shield team in her last year as a junior.
“My President’s Shield year was 1989. It was my last year and I made the all-stars, we won, the girls won their division- we had a great bunch of girls – still friends with all of them today. It was the best time. And then I thought, I really want to do this more. I needed to find out what could be next.”
The timing of her decision to take it seriously saw Kelly age out of the junior division. Back in the day, a youth division did not exist. What that meant was Kelly would ‘be back at the bottom’ in the Adult division.
“You were up against the big dogs – and they put you in your place, but it was the best place to learn” said Warren. “That taught me how to be a bowler- I had to go up against the Barb Richmond’s, The Ruth Guerster’s, the Cara Honeychurch’s, Jeanette Baker’s, I had to bowl against them all”.
Before too long, Kelly would not only find a way to compete with the ‘big dogs’ but found a way to beat them. The progression in her game was swift and national selectors noticed the girl from Rocky.
Australia was without a Youth competition but not without a representative under 23 team. In 1993, Kelly would be selected for her first Australian representative team to compete at the Asian Youth Championships in Hong Kong.
“My goal was always to represent my country. To wear that green and gold. I never bowled for money- it was for the competition; it was an absolute privilege to wear the green and gold in this sport”.
Her first international competition saw her exposed to the FIQ format for the first time. Singles, Doubles, Teams, All Events and Master’s competitions within the championship.
After getting over the initial shock of the amount of oil on the lanes and receiving pointers from coach and ‘legend’ Cheryl Munson, Kelly would not waste time in proving her selection was warranted. Even if she was a bit confused with how a FIQ event worked initially.
“It was the first day, it was all new to me, FIQ format, the amount of oil on the lanes, the different countries” explained Warren.
Singles was the first event and Kelly was paired with Sharon McLeish on the same pair of lanes. Evidence of her rawness was soon made apparent.
“I thought we were bowling doubles!” laughed Warren.
Kelly finished her six games of singles thinking it was the doubles event with McLeish. At the completion of the games, Kelly then understood this was not the doubles event.
“Kelly you just won the gold medal!” said McLeish. “In the doubles?” replied Warren with excitement. “No, you idiot, you won the singles!” explained McLeish.
Kelly also went on to win a bronze medal in her Australian debut during the team event. Apart from the medals, the experiences, the friendships are what it was all about for Kelly.
“It was also the year I knocked out the coach!” explained Warren.
“It was in our practice session – I was standing there talking to somebody and they asked me a question. Cheryl (Munson) was standing beside me and I went to direct the person, ‘Over there’ and she copped the wrist guard in the gob! I thought that was the end of my representative career in that moment! When I won that gold medal, she forgave me, but she never let me live it down- she still reminds me today about it!” said a laughing Kelly.
The person she almost knocked out turned out to be Kelly’s biggest influence in the sport – Cheryl Munson.
“She was my biggest influence; she is still one of the best coaches in this country today” explained Warren. “She knew our game inside and out. She was a ball driller, a bowler herself – she understood all of us and how to motivate us – a fantastic mentor”.
The success continued and so did the travel. The success accomplished on her debut in Hong Kong saw Kelly selected for the 1994 World Youth Championship team. The third running of the championships, this time in Mexico.
This would be the time Kelly would choose to showcase how good of a bowler she really was. Again, bowling the FIQ format, Kelly blitzed the field and became the first Australian to medal in every event at a World Championships. What a haul it was – silver in singles, gold in the doubles with Sharon McLeish (this time correctly), gold in teams and all events and silver in the masters. An incredible performance that remains unmatched to this day at a World Championships.
Along with this, Kelly would quickly understand the stark differences of motivations and pressures of the different countries that would be competing.
“Malaysian bowler – Shalin Zulkifli was my opponent in the bronze medal match” explained Kelly. “I beat her, she was a big-time bowler – the best, she came up to me after I beat her and asked – can I ask you how much your country will give you for that silver medal? – I replied, what are you talking about?! She then said – because you just cost me $50,000! I simply pat her on the back and said – that’s all I’ll get (pat on the back)”.
Kelly achieved a lot on the lanes. In 1998 she retired from representative bowling finishing as a five-time Australian representative with 5 gold, 3 silver and one bronze medal. Kelly would also be a common presence in her states Rachuig teams. Kelly would bowl Rachuig for QLD eight times winning the trophy in 1990, and named an all-star in 1993, 1996 and 1997.
A halt to representative bowling did not stop Kelly from bowling completely. Kelly would find a way to still compete. That way was bowling tournaments on the Australian circuit up to 2003.
The illustrious Queensland Ladies Classic being one of her favourite tournaments. Kelly was crowned champion three years in a row from 2000-2002. An achievement that has only just been matched and superseded by superstar Victorian Rebecca Whiting.
‘Not bad for a girl from Rocky’ – is the catchphrase you hear in the office anytime Kelly’s bowling is mentioned. To be fair – Kelly doesn’t like to mention her achievements on the lanes. That’s the person Kelly is- she rarely talks about herself. A trait she attributes to her regional upbringing.
Living in a regional area not flush with cash always made it hard to fund the bowling aspirations. Kelly would never complain. If Kelly wanted something, she would find a way – usually by fundraising.
“As a family we couldn’t waste money so there was a lot of raffles that we’d have to do. My poor mum would cook cakes all the time, she was the best baker, and she would sell them to local stores to raise money for me to go away,” explained Warren.
“I didn’t buy a car till I was 25. I had to make sacrifices- I couldn’t afford a car and bowl. I lived in Rockhampton so flights back then were expensive. I used to go to VIC150 each year and it used to cost me nearly $2,000 each time. But it is what it is – If you have a dream or desire, sacrifices have to be made – where you live isn’t an excuse,” said Warren.
Living with her parents for as long possible, Kelly started focusing on her career, and moved to Brisbane in 1998. The initial intention of the move was to join the Police Force. However that didn’t eventuate and instead Kelly joined the bowling industry working at AMF Redcliffe. Living with her ‘great friends’ Jan and Ken Mills for an 18-month period who she called Ma and Pa, Kelly then moved to Strathpine where she became duty manager and worked for 12 months.
Then an administration role became available at TBAQ (Tenpin Bowling Association Queensland). Kelly applied and got the job.
“I was a development officer there doing all kinds of things, working with Gail Torrens. I worked there for 7 years.” explained Warren. The experience at TBAQ would teach Kelly about associations, programs, accounting, everything and anything about the administration side of the sport- all taught well by Gail Torrens.
After 7 years, Kelly tried a ‘normal job’ at a transport company. Three months in, she missed working in bowling.
A TBA employee at the time, Bruce Morris, convinced the then CEO of TBA that they should get Kelly Warren to TBA. In July 2008, Kelly started working at TBA and the rest is history.
TBA also recruited Sid Steele from TBAQ due to his accounting background. Kelly and Sid travelled to the Gold Coast daily as the TBA office was located there with the initial goals for the company to sort out the finances.
Shortly after, the office moved to Brisbane where it remains today. The original Brisbane office started with only Kelly and Bruce Morris helping the CEO. “We just started building – rebuilding, and then I had to hire people. Everything was outside my comfort zone, but I gave it a go. I found a way and look at us now – I think it’s a great story!” said Warren.
One of the many things that has progressed since joining the organisation is sport registration/membership and the ability to complete it online. The registration element plays a vital part in the existence of the NSO and the running of the sport. The improvement has not been an easy road and is still not without its challenges.
“No sport in this country can run without the support of those that participate. It’s a minimal cost – and it’s a way to support the sport they play”.
With Tenpin Bowling receiving no high performance funding – every dollar that comes in from a registration/membership is stretched to the limit to help the sport continue and evolve across a number of areas. “Without the NSO there is no opportunity to represent your country, there are no grass roots programs to introduce the younger generation to the sport. You need a pathway and opportunities for people to aspire to”.
The implementation of Tenpin Results is another innovation Kelly is very proud of.
“You bowl in a tournament, and your scores are up there for loved ones to follow. I can look at all my league scores and stats. It’s literally a record, a resume of your bowling career. I don’t need to keep pieces of paper of my scores anymore! I think it’s very cool and there are no other countries in the world that provide league and tournament results into an integrated portal like we are doing”.
The increased presence of digital abilities such as streaming is something that Kelly is amazed at when you compare it to times and experiences had during her bowling career.
“When I bowed in the World Youth and medalled in every event, I had to ring my parents and tell them the news – they couldn’t watch or had no ideas of scores, and for that call each time – it cost me $160 for a ten minute phone call!!” said Kelly with a laugh.
For many, the thought of Kelly leaving TBA is a hard reality to come to grips with. TBA CEO and close friend Cara Honeychurch helped explain the value of Kelly.
“What can I say about Kelly. We’ve known each other since the late 80’s competing against one another for our respective States (QLD and Victoria) and then as teammates representing Australia at Asian and World Championships” said Honeychurch. “For the last 10 years we’ve worked closely together united in our passion to give back to the sport that has given so much to us. It is often said that no-one in an organisation is irreplaceable, but we will never find another Kelly Warren. Her knowledge and passion for the sport, ability to work with people, integrity, loyalty and commitment are just a few of many of Kelly’s finest qualities”.
Is this the end for Kelly Warren in the sport? Will she be involved in any capacity in the future?
“Not at this stage…but you don’t know what the future holds. Bowling has been my life – it’s in my DNA. You never know, you might see me on the lanes again. I might get the love to bowl again and I’ll be a senior soon. The opportunities that exist for that age group are fantastic – and that green and gold ambition might come back”.
Thank you for everything Kelly Warren. Best of luck in the next chapter of your life. No doubt you will succeed. You always find a way!