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Talking with Bowler Mike Edwards, the Lone American Indian to Win a PBA Tour Title

Mike Edwards is part of a small club whose members include Notah Begay, Sam Bradford, Joba Chamberlain and Tahnee Robinson—Native Americans currently involved in professional sports.

Edwards, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation who is also of Chickasaw and Choctaw descent, has been an active participant in the Professional Bowlers Association tour since 1981. Residing in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he grew up around the sport, watching his parents play in league games.

“I would just tag along,” Edwards said. “It was something for me to do. I wanted to try it. I played other sports growing up, but bowling was pretty natural for me. I was a natural athlete to start with—I had pretty good hand and eye coordination. It was just a natural talent that I had. I got better with age and technique.”

As he grew into the sport, Edwards started hanging around higher average leagues and players, himself averaging 200-215 at age 10-11. In his teens, he grew away from bowling to pursue baseball and football. Around age 19, Edwards picked up the bowling ball again, playing in leagues around Tulsa and outside of Oklahoma.

“It’s sort of a long transition,” Edwards said about his rise to the professional ranks. “I only dreamed about bowling on tour. I used to watch it on Saturday afternoons. Just until you get to a certain point, talent wise, you’re really not sure how good you are.”

Since beginning professional bowling, Edwards is the only Native American to win a PBA Tour title and also holds six PBA Regional titles. But to Edwards, these alone are not the greatest achievements. Instead, Edwards said that his ability to stay in the sport for over two decades is a greater accomplishment. At the same time, Edwards said that one of his biggest challenges is to remain focused after all these years.

“I’m turning 50 at the end of the year, and I want to maintain the tournament-type level for next year,” Edwards said. “I’ll be eligible for the senior year then, on top of the regular tour. I’ve done it for so long. I don’t get complacent, but there are times when it becomes a little easy. Motivation’s probably my biggest challenge—to stay motivated, to stay positive and up-to-date with everything.”

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To stay competitive in the PBA for as long as Edwards has involves staying in shape, just like any other sports. Edwards said that most of his conditioning involves the working out of the legs.

“You have to really focus on your legs,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your legs in shape. I try to do a lot of walking. Obviously, it’s not a contact sport by any means. You have to physically be in shape. We can bowl anywhere between 40 to 80 games in a three or four-day span.”

Edwards has long been recognized by the Native community for his contribution to professional sports, being taken into the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997. Edwards said that “just to be nominated was unbelievable,” yet being a member of this group who includes Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills did not really hit him fully until much later.

“It really didn’t dawn on me until a few years afterward, that I realized how important it meant and what it was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “To be the only bowler really meant a lot to me. Being in the Native American Hall of Fame really caught me off guard, but it is a tremendous honor to be in.”

When not on the lanes, Edwards said that he enjoys spending time with his wife, playing golf and watching University of Oklahoma football, with his favorite teams being from the Barry Switzer-coached Wishbone offenses of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Edwards has also been involved with youth bowling camps over the years, as well as public speaking engagements. His best advice for Native youth who are interested in professional sports is to “have the passion.”

“You’ve got to love what you do, no matter what it is,” said Edwards. “There’s always going to be ups and downs. It’s the way sports is and the way life is. You’ve got to able to learn from the bad. It tortures you when you can’t win every time; you have to lose more than you win. You learn from the losing to try and better yourself.”