ARLINGTON, Texas – Shannon O’Keefe of Shiloh, Illinois, first donned the red, white and blue for Team USA in 2005, and her journey as part of the program for the last 18 years has taken her across the world.
The 43-year-old right-hander has become one of the program’s most decorated athletes, earning nearly 50 medals in international competition during that span. More than half of the medals presented to her were plated in gold, and they were presented to her moments before the opening notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” echoed across some of bowling’s premier stages.
In April, O’Keefe announced her plan to retire from the program at the end of the year, but she will have one final opportunity to bring home a medal or two for Team USA at the upcoming PANAM Bowling Champion of Champions in Rio de Janeiro.
The event will take place at the Bowling Social Club from Aug. 22-25, and in addition to earning medals in singles and doubles competition, participating countries also will be looking to qualify for the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
Each country is allowed to register two female and two male athletes at the Champion of Champions, and O’Keefe will be joined by Bryanna Coté of Tucson, Arizona, in the women’s division.
AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois, and Kristopher Prather of Romeoville, Illinois, will represent Team USA in the men’s division.
Team USA head coach Bryan O’Keefe will join the team on the lanes in Rio de Janeiro.
Shannon O’Keefe’s list of accomplishments in a Team USA uniform includes team wins at the 2011 and 2015 International Bowling Federation Super World Championships, an individual victory at the 2018 World Cup and a gold in doubles with longtime teammate and friend Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, at the 2019 Pan American Games.
She was 10 years into her Team USA tenure when the Professional Women’s Bowling Association relaunched in 2015 and quickly ascended to superstar status on tour. In the past seven seasons, she has won 15 titles, including three majors, and just claimed her third PWBA Player of the Year honor earlier in August.
Before collecting player-of-the-year honors for the 2022 season, however, O’Keefe kicked off her farewell tour on Team USA with a stop in Birmingham, Alabama, in July at the World Games.
O’Keefe earned the gold medal in singles and silver in doubles with Julia Bond of Aurora, Illinois, and she admitted to allowing herself a brief moment to reflect on her career as part of Team USA.
“My last world event was the World Games,” O’Keefe said. “I didn’t realize how much it was going to mean to me until I was on the medal stand and hearing the national anthem play. I absolutely lost it because I let myself feel all the feels. It was going to be the last time I’d stand there and hear this, and it was way more emotional than I thought it would be.
“This is going to be an emotional one, too, but I’m super excited to be going to Champion of Champions and being able to share in my last Team USA adventure with Bry Coté. She quickly has become one of my really great friends on tour – she’s like my little sister. I told her I was honored to be able to share in my last Team USA experience with her.”
Coté also is coming off a strong season on the PWBA Tour. She was the only player to win two titles during the year and finished third on the season-long points list.
The 2021 PWBA Player of the Year earned a pair of gold medals (trios, team) and a bronze medal (all-events) during her last Team USA appearance, which came at the 2021 PANAM Bowling Elite Championships in Cali, Colombia.
Johnson and Prather will return to the international stage after representing the men’s team at the 2021 IBF Super World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
They teamed with Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, and Andrew Anderson of Chesterfield Township, Michigan, to win gold in trios competition, while Prather also collected a silver medal in mixed team and bronze in doubles with Anderson.
On the Professional Bowlers Association Tour in 2022, Prather recorded his second major victory at the PBA World Championship and finished second at the Kia PBA Tournament of Champions, while Johnson posted fourth-place finishes at the United States Bowling Congress Masters, U.S. Open and Kia PBA Tour Playoffs and made the show for the Midwest Region at the PBA Players Championship.
Shannon O’Keefe’s success as part of Team USA and the PWBA Tour has helped serve as the inspiration for many young athletes looking to chase their dreams of competing at the highest level, and she is able to give back and help those players prepare for the next step in their career as the head coach of the women’s bowling program at McKendree University.
With the collegiate season nearly underway, O’Keefe will not be able to attend the final two events on the Team USA schedule in October (PANAM Bowling Women’s Championships) and November (IBF World Cup).
Bryan O’Keefe, who is Shannon’s husband and the director of bowling at McKendree, previously jumped in to help coach when Shannon would head to Team USA events during the collegiate season, and she’ll be able to return the favor moving forward.
When Bryan became the head coach of Team USA in 2021, Shannon knew he would be traveling to more events, allowing for a well-timed transition for both to shift into new roles.
“For 18 years, he let me chase my dreams around this world,” said Shannon, who helped McKendree capture wins at the 2017 Intercollegiate Team Championships and 2017 and 2022 NCAA Women’s Bowling Championship. “Mentally, I was getting to the point where I just felt like it was time for me to step away and let some other young girls start their journey with Team USA, and with Bryan taking over the team, it’s all happening at the perfect time. Now, I can step away and be a proud wife of my husband and watch him chase his coaching dreams.”
The 2022 Champion of Champions features a pair of eight-game blocks for singles, with 16-game pinfall totals determining the medalists. Doubles competition will include eight games for each athlete, with the combined pinfall between both players determining the medal winners.
The cumulative pinfall for 48 games for each country, in each gender-based division, will determine the three countries qualifying for the 2023 Pan American Games.
The 2022 event marks the first standalone edition of the Champion of Champions since 2018, which also was held at Rio de Janeiro’s Bowling Social Club.
A version of the tournament was held simultaneously with the 2021 PANAM Bowling Elite Championships.
In 2018, Matt Russo swept the top spots, winning gold in singles, doubles (with Matt Farber), all-events and Masters. Farber also collected a silver medal in singles and bronze in all-events.
In the women’s division at the 2018 event, Kelly Kulick and Danielle McEwan captured the gold medal in doubles. Kulick also took home a silver medal in all-events and bronze in singles and Masters, while McEwan earned a silver medal in Masters.
The 2021 edition of the Champion of Champions only awarded a gold medal in all-events for 24 games, with Russo successfully defending the title.
For more information on the Team USA program, visit BOWL.com/TeamUSA.
Bowlers Journal International – Professional Bowling Magazine
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