What's Up South Texas!: Bowler passionate about equality in once segregated sport

Gregory Tatum serves as president of San Antonio Bowling Senate

Gregory Tatum, president of San Antonio's Bowling Senate, opened up about his love for the sport.

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio man is using his love for bowling, inspired by his parents, to push for equality in life.

Gregory Tatum, senate president of the San Antonio Bowling Senate, has always been passionate about bowling.

He has been a part of The National Bowling Association or TNBA most of his 71 years, but that hasn't always been what the acronym stood for.

"The organization was called The Negro Bowling Association which began back in 1939," Tatum said. "People of color could not bowl in the United States Bowling Congress or the Women's International Congress."

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Tatum said both of his parents were a part of TNBA and were great bowlers.

"At the time they bowled in the Philadelphia TNBA League Association," Tatum said. "My mother was an avid bowler. She could beat my father. She averaged right about 202, so anytime you get an average above 190, it is excellent. It was especially hard particularly for females because at that time, most bowlers were male. To have a female compete with the men and beat them, that used to make me so proud of my mom. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world."

Tatum said bowling has followed him throughout his entire life.

"I loved the sport, but I didn't know anything about what TNBA stood for," Tatum said. "When I found out as a senior in high school, I asked my parents, ‘Why didn't you all tell me?' They said, ‘If you just look at the name, we thought you knew because then it was called the Negro bowling association.' I just thought it was a black league. Not anything meaning that they were not allowed to bowl with USBC or WIBC."

Tatum said he didn't experience any prejudice growing up.

"I grew up in an Italian neighborhood," Tatum saud. "I didn't deal with any racial issues. I didn't experience that until I came into the service."

It wasn't until Tatum traveled to San Antonio that he experienced prejudice.

"I was driving down to San Antonio and I stopped to get gas taking the southern route and I had people refuse to give me gas," Tatum said. "I had a man tell me, ‘If you don't get out of here with that car, something is going to happen. I suggest you go.' I left and I was praying the whole way that my car didn't stop because I was just about out of gas. I found a station that finally helped me out."

Tatum said that experience made him feel even more ashamed that he didn't understand the true meaning behind TNBA.

Racism wasn't the hardest hit Tatum had to deal with in his lifetime. His father became violent as he developed dementia.

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"At that time, we didn't know what it was," Tatum said. "My mother was a special education teacher and taught for 40 years. She took a leave of absence to take care of my dad. It wasn't until my dad really started acting up. He broke  the bay window in the living room trying to get out. He threw my sister down the steps and he beat my mother." 

Tatum said he had to make the hardest decision he has ever had to make in his life. 

"I had power of attorney because I was the older sibling," Tatum said. "When that happened, I came home and had my dad committed. My mother didn't speak to me for two years," Tatum said through tears. " She told me I didn't have the right to do that, but if you would have seen how my mom looked when he beat her up. My dad used to be a boxer in the Navy. On several occasions, he threw her down the basement steps and my brother would have to jump on him to stop him from whipping on everybody."

His father later died in the 1970s at the age of 64. Tatum said he believes he gave up on life after his younger brother was shot and killed for his sneakers.

"My brother was a good student," Tatum said. "He was about to graduate and he was killed. Everyday my dad would go to the Navy yard, he would stop by the police station and ask ‘Who killed my son? What happened to my son?' He never found out what happened to him before he passed away. 

Tatum said after two years of having his dad committed, his mother slowly but surely started to speak to him again. 

Unfortunately, she too started developing dementia overtime. She died at the age of 88, two years ago. 

"We were mom and son again and the day she did pass, I was home and I was in the hospital bed with her and she passed away in my arms," Tatum said through tears. "I said ‘I love you mom,' and she said ‘I love you even more.'" 

Though that loss was major to Tatum, he said his mother is the reason why he pushes himself to inspire in the San Antonio Bowling Senate everyday. 

"Every time I bowl a decent game I say, ‘Mom you see that? I just shot that 300. I am better than you now you know,'" Tatum said through emotional laughter. "I laugh about it, but it means a lot that I am always talking to her."

Now, TNBA stands for The National Bowling Association and includes everybody. 

"We now have Hispanics, whites, most are military or retired military," Tatum said. "Now we have people of all colors and all races that bowl in the league and different leagues we have."

Outside of inspiring others to maintain the love of bowling, inviting and mentoring people of all kinds to join The National Bowling Association, and honoring his parents every time he serves others in the community, Tatum shares the history of TNBA for all to know where it came from and why it exists today. 

"Never judge a person based upon his or her race," Tatum said. "Get to know the person. Get to know who they are and what they mean and what they could possibly mean to you. The TNBA Motto is fellowship, friendship, and sportsmanship. I adopted it and modified it. San Antonio Bowling Senate is friendship always, fellowship forever."

If you know someone like Tatum who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.

About the Author:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.