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Donald James Carter (July 29, 1926 – January 5, 2012) was a right-handed American professional bowler. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he learned the game while working a childhood job as a pinsetter. Carter went on to become one of the legends of ten-pin bowling and a founding member of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) in 1958. He was six-time bowler of the year, a ten-time All-American, and became known simply as "Mr. Bowling." He was voted the Greatest Bowler of All-Time in a 1970 Bowling Magazine poll, and ranked #1 among 20th Century bowlers by Bowlers Journal in 1999. At the vanguard of celebrity endorsement, he capitalized on his fame during televised bowling's most popular period to become the first athlete of any kind to earn $1,000,000 in a single endorsement deal, for Ebonite International.
Prior to the PBA being formed, Carter was known as a dominant bowler in major tournaments of the 1950s, as well as in team play. In the BPAA All-Star tournaments (predecessor to the U.S. Open) between 1952 and 1960, Carter won four times and never finished lower than fourth. He won five World Invitational events in a six-year span, finishing second the only year he did not win. He also won one ABC Masters title.
As a team bowler, Carter helped the Pfeiffer Beer team of Detroit, Michigan, win the 1953 ABC Open Championships before he moved back to St. Louis. Carter was then part of the "Budweisers" Bowling Team that won the National Team Match Games title four straight years (1956–59). In 1958, this team established an ABC league series record for a five-man team (3,858 pins) that stood for more than 35 years. Ray Bluth, Dick Weber, Tom Hennessey and Pat Patterson were also on that 1958 team.
Unlike most bowlers, who keep their arm straight on the backswing as they are about to release the ball, Carter kept his elbow bent, never straightening his arm.
Although the PBA was not formed until Carter was 32 years old, he still won seven PBA titles (five of them majors) including the inaugural PBA National Championship in 1960. He won four titles and $49,000 in prize money in 1962 alone. That year, he also made 18 top-five finishes (still a PBA record), including seven straight top-five finishes (a feat matched only by Dick Weber since), and he was named the Bowling Writers Association of America's Bowler of the Year.
He was the PBA's first president, and served four years overall in that capacity. A bad knee forced him to retire from competitive bowling in 1972.
Carter enlisted in the United States Navy in 1944, and spent two years as a radarman in the South Pacific. He was a baseball player in high school and was signed to a minor-league contract by the Philadelphia Athletics in the fall of 1946. After one season in a Class D league, he hung up his baseball spikes and returned to St. Louis to take a job at Golden Eagle Lanes. Working as an alley man, bartender and janitor, he bowled as often as he could during his time off.
In 1951 he was invited to bowl for the Pfeiffer Beer team in Detroit, where his bowling career reached high momentum.
Carter married female bowler LaVerne Haverly (née Thompson) in 1953. The two divorced in 1964. His second marriage, to Pat Hardwick in 1966, ended in a 1972 divorce. In 1973 Carter married professional bowler Paula Sperber, who had won the 1971 U.S. Women's Open and had an outstanding pro bowling career. Carter's first and third wives are in the WIBC (now USBC) Hall of Fame. The PBA recently held a mixed doubles tournament called the Don and Paula Carter Mixed Doubles Championship.
Carter was known for a number of bowling "firsts":