For many months — maybe a year or more? — I had seen Jeff Demorest’s Facebook postings. In forums where tournament directors had advertised their events or posted their standings, Demorest would reply, asking something along these lines: “I’d like to support your event,” and “Message me so we can discuss working together.”
Demorest had long observed how many bowling tournaments update their standings: First, someone writes scores down on a recap sheet as the bowlers finish their games. Then, a tournament official walks around recording the scores on a master sheet. Third, someone enters the scores from a master sheet into a tournament program or spreadsheet. Then an updated standing sheet is printed out and, usually, taped to the wall. Finally, someone takes a cell phone photo of the standing sheet and posts it to Facebook.
This system had several flaws, Demorest realized. Each successive update usually meant several photos of standing sheets were floating around online, with all of them outdated except for the most current one. Second, what if there had been an error in entering the scores? The sheets would have to be reprinted, reposted, and rephotographed — again, with the lingering possibility that someone would be looking at an incorrect or outdated sheet.
(Christine & Jeff Demorest)
Most importantly, Demorest — who works as an assistant high school principal and knows how connected people are to their electronic devices — figured there had to be a way to post, update and access standings in real time, using the technology that everyone already had in their hands. He also wanted people to be able to enter tournaments online and see their bracket results right away.
After a couple years of programming and refining, the result is TournamentBowl.com — an online program for managing and posting tournament standings. Unlike many similar platforms, this one is completely free and web-based.
Jeff and his wife, Christine, demonstrated the program earlier this year at a youth masters tournament in Seattle. Many bowlers and spectators checked the standings on a large monitor Demorest had set up on the concourse, although many other spectators simply kept track of the standings on their phones. In fact, when a tournament official walked down the concourse to pass out standing sheets after each game, many parents declined them. “We already saw it 5 minutes ago!” they remarked, pointing to the standing sheets already displayed on their tablets.
(A spectator keeps track of the official standing sheets on a laptop during the Seattle Youth Masters).
Following that Seattle tournament, I asked Jeff to tell me how and why he developed the software, why he’s giving it away, and the lingering question: Will it always be free?
Bowling History Book: Tell me about your bowling background.
Jeff Demorest: I grew up in a bowling family, following my parents all over for Swiss tournaments. In high school I competed in a travel league including the WSBPA state tournament. That was a highlight of every year.
Now as an adult I bowl in a scratch league, usually averaging around 210. I bowl the occasional scratch tournament, and most of the local association events.
BHB: You’re a high school administrator, but you’ve created this complex computer software. Where did you learn to program?
BHB: How did the idea for TournamentBowl come about?
JD: I started thinking about this project several years ago on the way home from a state tournament in Idaho, an 8-hour drive from home. My family had bowled and done quite well. I think we were in second place with two weeks to go. We were excited to see how our scores would hold up. I was looking on my phone to see the current standings so that I would know where to look as new scores were coming in. I figured they must be somewhere but couldn’t find them. Weeks after the tournament ended, still no scores. I just knew they were pinned up on a wall someplace in Idaho, but I wasn’t going to drive 8 hours to see [them].
It turned out the director’s computer got a virus, and had to be repaired in order to recover the scores. That definitely got me thinking of a better way to handle score management for tournaments so I started looking around for what was out there. [A while] later my mom mailed in her entry to a major tournament, only to have it mailed back several weeks later stating that her first choices of squads were both full. And now that the weeks had passed, just about everything else was full too. That made me think about the value in online entries. If there is a spot open, you should be able to take it. If there’s no spot open, you should be able to see that and immediately select another. [Postal] mail is good for a lot of things, but not this. It has to be faster.
BHB: How long did it take, from the time you came up with the idea to when you finally launched the program?
JD: From conception to live was probably 2 years or so. The first events were in 2013.
BHB: Describe to me how it works and what the advantages are over the way most tournaments are currently managing their standings.
JD: The biggest benefit in my opinion is the immediate access to results. Excitement for a tournament is never higher than right during the event. The moment a bowler finishes their game they can’t help but wonder, “I wonder what place I’m in,” and, “How are my brackets?”Also, it may look exciting for everyone to be crowding around the brackets table, but it’s also frustrating. Posting things on walls or tables can’t be the way forward in a modern sport. Bracket viewing is probably my favorite part of TournamentBowl. You can see your brackets, who you are matched up against, and what lane they’re on. My league bowlers love it.
(Jeff Demorest works on a laptop next to a large screen displaying instant updates from the Seattle Youth Masters in January).
From the director’s perspective, I’m hearing regularly how simple TournamentBowl is to use. Entering names, assigning lanes, and so forth are very easy. Score entry is a snap, and once you put a score in, your standings update online as well as all of your side action and brackets.
With online entries, bowlers can enter the tournament on their own. Online payments let bowlers commit to bowling when they are thinking about it, rather than waiting until they see the director to drop off their money. I thought this was going to be a bigger part of TournamentBowl, but most directors are continuing to handle payments themselves — which is perfectly fine.
BHB: Score entry has to be one of the biggest conveniences. I saw you and your wife with your phone and tablet, and you had the scores punched in long before the scorekeepers had a chance to write them on the recaps.
(Demorest enters scores on an iPad as bowlers finish their games. Results are uploaded to the Web long before the scores get written down on the official recap sheets).
JD: Online score entry is a more efficient and more accurate way to record scores. Typically, someone looks at the monitor and writes down the score — with a chance of human error. Then that paper gets run to the tournament desk and someone reads what they wrote. That’s another chance for an error. Then the person types it into the computer — another chance for an error. And they have to hurry because they are entering all of the scores. With TournamentBowl, [designated score recorders] look at the monitors and type scores into their phones or other web devices. Done. One chance for an error and no handwriting at all to navigate.
BHB: Many tournament directors have discovered your software and have successfully used it, but you continue to offer it for free. Why is that, and will you ever charge for it?
JD: Why do I do this for free? This is fun. It’s fun to help people, it’s fun to create things that have value and it’s fun to help the sport I love take a small step forward.
I talk to a lot of directors and I can enjoy the conversations knowing that I’m not trying to talk them out of their money. If I was charging, the conversations would take on an entirely different tone, and I couldn’t charge enough to make that worth it.
I suppose I probably will [charge] at some point, but it’s not on my radar now. If it catches on like I think it might, there will be plenty of options for cashing in. I’ll worry about that later.
BHB: You and your wife (Christine) were at the Youth Masters I attended. You both helped enter scores and demonstrate the program, but the goal is for tournament directors to run it themselves with a minimal amount of training. So how easy is TournamentBowl to learn? JD: My vision for TournamentBowl is for a director to be able to use it with no training at all. To make that a reality, I’m continually adjusting and simplifying to make things easy and “obvious.” As it is now, I spend time with most of the directors that use it. A few get their password and just do it all without me. Others get a quick walk-through with me, 20 to 30 minutes, and then they’re pretty much good to go.
Others get a bit more help. I’ve spent an hour on the phone with more “conscientious” directors, most of which come back with follow up questions later. I love it. I made TournamentBowl to help, so spending time with someone helping them use it is exactly how I’d like to spend my time. [And in the end,] I can’t really think of anyone who couldn’t figure it out — so I guess that’s an indication that it’s pretty simple to use.
BHB: What’s next for you and this project?
JD: My vision is for TournamentBowl to become an industry standard for tournament management. There are good products on the market already, but you can probably count them on one hand. I think there is room for another, especially if the next one is faster, simpler, and “free-er.”
Story and photographs © 2017 by Kevin Hong