HAMMOND | It took Mike Kozy 40 years to earn his first Times/Pepsi Classic Class A championship. It only took him one to win his second.
The Griffith resident rolled two 246 games Sunday at Olympia Lanes to win his round of four and finals matches. He topped Ari Wilson's 181 in the last game to become the first repeat champion since 1993.
"That took every ounce of effort that I could muster," he said. "I probably won't walk tomorrow, but I don't care. This almost beats last year."
Kozy, the oldest qualifier in the top division, was nagged by a knee injury all day. He had surgery in September 2013, but said the pain Sunday was unlike anything he'd been through before. His struggles were especially clear in the last few throws and he could barely stand at the end of the day.
"It popped (in practice) and I was in tears," Kozy said. "I just wanted to make sure I kept the ball in play and if I struck, I struck and pick up my spares."
Kozy said if it were a league game or a lesser tournament, he wouldn't have finished. He looked to his father, Joseph, who died during the first week of this year's Classic, for strength.
"I went down and said 'Dad, let me finish,'" he said. "Thank you, Dad. Thank you, everybody, because I needed all of them that (darn) game."
Wilson left splits in the opening two frames of that final match while Kozy, the Olympia Lanes general manager, threw strikes in his first four. But Kozy gave the 19-year-old Wilson an opening, leaving the 10 pin in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth frames.
Wilson couldn't capitalize, failing to mark in the eighth frame.
"Mike Kozy is an awesome bowler and he had a great look, anyway, besides what was going on with his knee," Wilson said. "I made the right adjustment, I just should have done it two frames earlier."
Wilson's mom, Shonda, may have been the most vocal spectator in the house. Cheers of "Let's go, little boy" were clearly audible over the noise of the crowd.
"I am her little boy. Everybody knows who's my mom's little boy," Wilson said. "When I needed a 10 pin to win (in the round of four), all I know is I remember my mom saying 'You'd better hit that 10 pin.'"
Kozy's family was there, too.
"I'm probably done now for a while," Kozy said. "I've got a ride home."