Francois Lavoie and Liz Johnson: Chasing Beat the Champions history

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Liz Johnson (l-r), Jan Schmidt, Sean Rash and Francois Lavoie wrap up the taping of the target broadcast for Beat the Champions.
Credit: Dale Bowman

Francois Lavoie knows who Andy Varipapa is now.

Lavoie finished the third highest target in Beat the Champions history with back-to-back games of 279 for a 770 at Elk Grove Bowl. He connected the final games with an Andy Varipapa 300.

Liz Johnson set the women’s target a record fifth time with a 623, pulled down by 10 recalcitrant 10-pins in the 57th BTC.

Score sheet for the 2017 targets for Beat the Champions.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman

Score sheet for the 2017 targets for Beat the Champions.
Credit: Dale Bowman

As to his Varipapa 300 and the namesake, Lavoie, 24, said, “I wasn’t aware of it. I wasn’t aware of him, but had heard the name.’’

Varipapa, the late trick-shot artist, came up with his 300 over two games. Lavoie pulled off the feat when he struck from the sixth frame on in the second game, then struck the first five in the final game. In the final two games he only missed the 10-pin in the fifth frame of Game 2 and the sixth of Game 3.

The two target scores higher than Lavoie’s came from Robert Lawrence, who rolled the only 800 (815) in 1992, and Pete Weber with a 771 in 2007. No 300s have been thrown during the target show. Lawrence came closest (299 in 1992).

“It was a matter of finding the right line, then it just seemed like I just needed to throw the ball out there,’’ said Lavoie, who opened with a 212 that included an open sixth frame on a 4-6-7 split.

It’s wasn’t splits that gave Johnson the fits.

“I was trying to figure what would carry a 10-pin,’’ Johnson said.

She left three 10-pins in Game 1 (third, fourth and ninth frames), four in Game 2 (first, third, fourth and sixth) and three in the final game (second, fourth, eighth). Johnson’s also left an open in the sixth in Game 2 on a 4-6-7-10 split.

It was the lowest of Johnson’s targets. She rolled 702 in 1996, 714 in 2007, 678 in 2013 and 717 last year.

“Living in this area, you know what it is all about,’’ said Johnson, who just moved to Palatine.

What it’s about is charity: $2.856,618.43 raised by 5,768,200 entries by league bowlers in the first 56 years the event has been sponsored by the Chicagoland Bowling Proprietors Association. The Sun-Times is media sponsor.

Click here for details on Beat the Champions.


Francois Lavoie made the most of setting the target for the 57th Beat the Champions. After the taping at Elk Grove Bowl in mid-December, Francois Lavoie and his girlfriend Tatiana Munoz spent the weekend taking in Chicago.

Lavoie, 24, who bowled for his alma mater Wichita State, was previously only in the area for collegiate bowling at Stardust Bowl in Addison. He met Munoz, finishing her masters in social work at Wichita, at a Pan America bowling event. He was bowling for Canada–Lavoie is the first Canadian to set the BTC target–and Munoz for Columbia.

CHARITY STRIKES: Lavoie tied the record for Charity Strikes with 11 to earn $1,100 for the Children’s Defense Fund. During the fifth and 10th frames, Miller High Life gave $100 for each strike to the charity of the target bowler’s choice. Liz Johnson, who set the record last year, had three for $300 for Arlington Heights-based The Buddy Foundation, which helps abandoned and homeless animals.

MAN VS WOMAN: Lavoie’s 770 to Johnson’s 623 is only the second time in eight years that the man has rolled a higher target than the woman. The last was Sean Rash in 2014 when he rolled a 752 to Shannon Pluhowsky’s 637.

NEXT: Scores by league bowlers from contest week earlier in December are being tallied. Bowlers advancing to the sectionals in February will be notified.

REBROADCAST: The target show will be rebroadcast at noon Wednesday and 11 a.m. New Year’s Day on NBC Sports Chicago.

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