Successful Sir Bill
Johnstown High School grad Klempa leads Nebraska to title
It’s a long way from Johnstown, New York, to Lincoln, Nebraska.
It’s also a journey that resulted in a national championship for Paul Klempa.
The 1989 Johnstown High School graduate is the head women’s bowling coach at the University of Nebraska and on April 10, his Cornhuskers won a national title.
“To win a national title is unbelievable,” Klempa said. “It’s just a blessing.”
The national title was the sixth NCAA title by the Huskers since 2004 and the eighth since bowling was elevated to varsity sport status at Nebraska.
“A national championship is the goal every year for Nebraska bowling,” Klempa said. “It’s always our goal and following in the footsteps of Bill Straub isn’t an easy thing.”
It was Klempa’s first as head coach after he took over for the only coach Nebraska had ever had, Bill Straub, on Sept. 3, 2019.
Although he began his first season as head coach in 2019-20, he had spent 22 seasons as Straub’s assistant coach.
“Paul Klempa has been a leader in Nebraska Bowling since before it became a varsity sport. He has helped lay the foundation for the country’s most successful program,” Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said in a news release when Klempa said named coach in 2019. “Paul was integral in building the program, has proven that he has what it takes to lead the team to success, and has earned the opportunity to take our program to even greater heights in the years to come.”
Klempa has been part of the Nebraska program since he bowled for the Cornhuskers in college in 1992. He earned all-America honors as a senior for Nebraska in 1994. He was named the Cornhuskers’ assistant coach in 1997, which was the first year that bowling became a varsity sport at Nebraska.
During his tenure as an assistant coach at Nebraska, Klempa has helped guide the Huskers to eight national championships — including back-to-back NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005, and NCAA championships in 2009, 2013 and 2015.
In the 17 years that the NCAA has sponsored bowling, Nebraska is the only program to have qualified for the NCAA Championship in every season.
“Our success has been pretty amazing,” Klempa said. “The university has pumped out a lot of good players who have stuck around and stayed in the area.”
Klempa is one of those players, having stayed in Lincoln, Nebraska, since graduating in 1994 with a degree in psychology. Klempa and his wife, Leanna, live in Lincoln and have two sons, Jake and Carter.
Getting to Lincoln at all was almost an accident for Klempa.
“Bowling was kind of my thing and I decided to go to Fulton-Montgomery Community College. I was on the team there for two years. The coach, Sal Davi, gave me a flier for Nebraska bowling,” Klempa said. “I didn’t know anything about it, but one of my teammates, T.J. Miseno, and I decided to look into it. We sent in our information and a video of us bowling at Imperial Lanes in Amsterdam. Bill Straub was the coach and he contacted us and T.J. and I went to bowl for Nebraska.”
After his collegiate bowling career ended, Klempa looked to remain involved in the sport.
“I was always planning on staying in the industry, but when Bill called, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Klempa said.
When Straub decided to step down, Klempa was named the second coach in Nebraska history.
In his first season, the Cornhuskers won four of their nine tournaments in the 2019-20 season before the COVID pandemic ended the season.
“We had a full season and right before the national tournament, everything shut down,” Klempa said.
The 2020-21 season was an abbreviated one that saw Nebraska bowl in just five tournaments before heading to the NCAA regionals.
“We didn’t really get started this year until January. We usually start bowling in the fall,” Klempa said. “Without playing as much as we normally would, it’s hard to see where you stand and get the team chemistry where you want it to be. We kept getting better as the year went on and I was feeling pretty good about the team when we headed to nationals in Kansas City and I knew we had a chance to win it.”
The bid for a national tile was nearly derailed on the first day of regionals when the second-seeded Cornhuskers were upset, 2-1, by 15th-seeded Medaille.
“Things didn’t get off to a great start on the first day, so we figured things had to change for the better,” Klempa said.
Needing to win the rest of their matches to reach the national tournament, Nebraska lost the first round of it next match against Mount St. Mary’s.
“In our second match, we lost the first round of the match to Mount St. Mary’s, so we were just one more loss from having our season end. We got down 60 pins, but came back to win the second round and win the match. We found a way to survive and then we beat the 15 seed in our second match with them to advance to the regional final against Vanderbilt. We had to beat them twice because they hadn’t lost. We managed to do that and survived regionals to advance to the national tournament.
The regional and national tournaments were both held in Kansas City, Mo.
At the national tournament, Nebraska won all three of its matches to claim its sixth NCAA title and eighth national title.
The Cornhuskers opened with a 2-0 win over Arkansas State and posted a 2-1 win over top-seeded McKendree to reach the national finals. In the title match, Nebraska posted a 4-1 victory over Arkansas State.
“The girls bowled well and conducted themselves real well,” Klempa said. To go from the bottom after losing our first regional match to winning a national title is just kind of incredible.”
For Klempa, the title was the culmination of a long journey that began in Johnstown.
He grew up bowling and working at Kobuskie Lanes in Gloversville (now Arterial Lanes) and Perry Lanes in Johnstown, respectively.
“I learned from Al Waschak and Jack Eaton when I was young,” Klempa said. “My family was always involved in bowling. My sister married a guy who owned Kobuskie Lanes, and I grew up in that place. Jerry and Brenda Marshall let me practice all I wanted there. I would shovel snow to pay them back. Plus, my uncle did the lanes and was the head mechanic there. My dad ran a pro shop on East Fulton Street in Gloversville.”
When Klempa got older he attended Johnstown High School and bowled for four seasons for the Sir Bills, who call Perry Lanes home.
“I spent a lot of my time there, and we had a pretty good high school team at Johnstown,” he said. “We even made it to states one year. They had a different [sectional] format back then, but we had a lot of good players.”
Though he has been in Nebraska since 1992, Klempa’s parents, Paul and Donna, still live in Johnstown and he has plenty of family of friends in the area.
“My heart is still back there in Fulton County. I still have a lot of friends there and I’m planning to make a trip back this summer. It’s been three years since I’ve been back,” he said. “I’m happy to be able to do something special to bring back home. Bowling is a hard sport to predict. To be able to come out on top is really a blessing.”