Connie Marchione couldn’t hear the applause, but he could feel the love as he walked up the aisle. The 83-year-old Panorama City man – deaf since he was 6 – stood on stage being inducted into the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in St. Louis recently. He snuck a quick look at his wife, Dorothy, standing out there in the audience with the rest of his family, then he took a deep breath and mustered every ounce of willpower he could to not break down and cry. Connie was so nervous his legs were shaking uncontrollably. This couldn’t be happening, he thought. It must be a dream. That little deaf kid who used to be a pinsetter at four bowling alleys growing up in Detroit – straddling two lanes to set up pins for 10 cents a line – couldn’t be standing up here with the greats of the game being welcomed into their exclusive club. He never carried more than a 186 average, never got close to a perfect 300 game, let alone rolled one game on the pro tour. He didn’t belong in bowling’s Hall of Fame, but here he was being given a standing ovation and a plaque that said he was wrong – he did belong. Not for knocking down pins but for breaking down barriers. For leading a movement that has brought more than 50,000 deaf adults into bowling alleys all over this country. For his hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles as a member of the Bowling Writers Association of America for the last 35 years, persuading the deaf and their hearing counterparts that the only handicap that counts is on the scorecard, not the player. Connie made sure that wherever there was a sanctioned bowling tournament going on in this country, a team of deaf bowlers was included, racking up their share of wins along the way. “No one pushed it harder and did more to get the deaf community involved and accepted in bowling than Connie,” said Rusty Bryant, who runs the pro shop at Mission Hills Bowl, where Connie’s a regular. “That’s why he’s in the hall.” Rusty said his pal figured out a long time ago that deaf bowling teams actually had an edge over their hearing counterparts in tournaments. “Connie said they sure wouldn’t have a problem with crowd noise.” When Connie walked into the Mission Hills alley Thursday morning to bowl a few lines with Dorothy, his brother, Dom, and sister, Judy Campise, other bowlers put down their balls and walked over to congratulate him. How many local bowling alleys in the Valley have their own Hall of Famer? Connie made his living as a tool-and-die man, but sports was his real love, he says. At one time, he helped form and played in four deaf leagues in Los Angeles – baseball, basketball, golf and bowling. That’s where he met Dorothy, who is also deaf. She was sitting up in the stands at one of his basketball games when he first laid eyes on her. “You want to go out some time?” Connie asked her in sign language after the game. “No,” Dorothy signed him back. But her husband of more than 50 years is nothing if not stubborn, she says. He wouldn’t give up. “It took three years of dating on and off, but I finally said yes, I’d marry him,” she said, laughing. What’s made Connie a good husband and father is the same thing that got him inducted into the Hall of Fame last month, she said. When he wants something really bad, he just never gives up chasing it. But this was one honor that really surprised him, Connie said. “In my wildest dreams I never expected an honor like this. I’m not a great bowler. I’m an average one. Being in the Hall of Fame, wow. “Like I told them at the ceremony, I was accepting the honor on behalf of every deaf bowler out there.” Fifty thousand of them in bowling alleys all over the country. Proving the only handicap that matters is on the scorecard, not the player. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!