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Mormon convert, grandmother now member of bowling hall of fame

By Barbara Openshaw

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Aug. 29 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

PLACENTIA, Calif. — Most members of the Placentia 1st Ward of the Placentia California Stake know Cheryl Robinson as a petite grandmother with creative skills who currently serves on the ward Relief Society committee.

It's been a surprise to many to learn that more than 30 years ago, Robinson was one of the top female professional bowlers in the world. In recognition of her accomplishments, Robinson was recently inducted into the U.S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame.

Robinson, then Cheryl Kominsky, was introduced to bowling at the age of 10, when she was living in Westchester, Calif., and was invited to a birthday party that included bowling. She took to the game immediately. Her mother agreed to pay for her bowling so long as she bowled over her average.

By the time Robinson was a senior in high school, she was bowling in local junior tournaments. She gained attention in 1969 when she was named Southern California Junior Bowler of the Year. In 1970 she won a national honor, the prestigious Alberta E. Crowe Star of Tomorrow award. Robinson went on to win her first tour title a week before her 21st birthday in 1972.

She placed fourth in her first U.S. Open that same year.

"I liked the instant gratification of bowling," Robinson said. "You make and effort and you get a reward. I also liked the competitiveness. I competed individually, but also bowled in a lot of team and doubles events."

As one of the youngest women to become a professional bowler, Robinson attracted considerable press attention. She was featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. She was "the brunette with flashing brown eyes that seem to smile perpetually," according to a 1970 Bowlers Journal article.

For the next few years, Robinson traveled internationally and had a successful bowling career. AMF sponsored her and she became a member of AMF's "Staff of Champions." In this role she put on bowling clinics and exhibitions in South America, the Soviet Union, Japan and Europe. She was a goodwill ambassador for AMF at awards ceremonies and at the opening of new bowling centers.

"I was one of the lucky ones, to have a contract with a major company," said Robinson, who had originally planned to attend college after high school. "I was fortunate to be able to do something I loved."

In 1973, Robinson stopped in Hawaii on her way back from a tournament in Japan. There she met pro bowler and LDS Church member Jay Robinson, who was participating in a tournament there. Jay and Cheryl dated for two years and were married in 1975.

Both successful pro bowlers, the pair attracted press attention as a married couple, with each winning multiple tournaments. They became the first husband-and-wife to individually win the AMF Grand Prix with Jay winning in 1977 and Cheryl winning in 1978. Cheryl was twice named to All-American bowling teams and was among the top five women bowlers in the world.

"Jay never pushed me," said Cheryl, who was not a member of the church at the time they married. But the church was often on her mind as she and Jay visited the grounds of various temples during their travels, and as she learned more about the gospel. After taking the missionary discussions three times, Cheryl was baptized in 1985. The Robinsons were sealed in the Salt Lake LDS Temple in 1987.

"I knew in my heart it was true," said Robinson, who is the mother of two grown daughters and grandmother of two. "I knew it was Heavenly Father's plan that families could be together forever."

Robinson bowled during her pregnancy with her first daughter, LeAhna, in 1977. After LeAhna's birth, Cheryl and Jay continued to work as pro bowlers, which included international travel. That changed following the birth of their second daughter, Lauren, in 1985.

"I retired once I had my second daughter," said Cheryl. "I wanted to stay home with my children and not travel. Motherhood became my career."

During this time, Jay began running bowling centers in various parts of the United States, including Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana, with Cheryl assisting him on a part-time basis.

"Wherever we moved, we always prayed for guidance and Heavenly Father directed us," Cheryl said. "Every time we moved I gained a stronger testimony."

During this period, Cheryl also established a career as a designer of porcelain dolls. She learned the art from her mother-in-law and designed 25 dolls for the Knickerbocker Toy Company, which was eventually purchased by Marie Osmond. Cheryl designed individual dolls that were then mass produced in China.

The Robinsons moved to the Placentia 1st ward in 2008, a ward where they had also lived briefly in the 1990s.

Forty years after she began her career as a pro bowler, Cheryl was thrilled to be elected to the U.S. Bowling Congress Hall of Fame this year. She was inducted on July 1, 2011, at ceremonies in Arlington, Texas.

"It was very exciting," she said. "It was nice they didn't forget me."

"Bowling was my metaphor for life," she said. "It's important to have a good foundation to be a good bowler, and it's important to have a good foundation for life."

Barbara Openshaw serves on the Public Affairs Committee in the Placentia California Stake.

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