The Times - James Hester was hopeful, but when he heard the news he began to shake.

His lane assignment for the second squad of Monday's PBA50 South Shore Open Pro-Am at Olympia Lanes was lanes 1 and 2.

The initial pro for that pair? All-time bowling great Walter Ray Williams Jr.

"It was a dream come true, to get to bowl with him of all people," said Hester, a Chesterton resident.

"I was seventh in the pro-am last year, and I had this date circled all year on my calendar. All week I was telling my girlfriend, ‘If I draw Walter Ray, I'm going to go nuts.'"

Hester composed himself and enjoyed his hour or so with the Hall of Fame bowler - and horseshoes player - who won 47 tournaments and took home PBA Bowler of the Year seven times before turning 50 and joining the senior circuit.

Williams has two wins through eight events of this season's 12-tournament schedule. He's the only multiple winner and leads the tour points standings.

"I've got a real good history here," said Williams, who has won two PBA majors in Indianapolis and won the Lake County Indiana Golden Anniversary Championship in 2009.

"This is a really good bowling community, obviously. I had a lot of people tell me they're my No. 1 fan."

Hester shot a 210 while Williams calmly rolled a 279 before switching to the next set of lanes to allow a new set of fans to roll a game with the legend.

"This is always a fun thing for the pros because it's a little more relaxed than the competition," Williams said. "It's not quite as serious."

Each participant in the pro-am was able to bowl with three pros participating in this week's PBA50 South Shore Open, the 14th consecutive year the senior tour has stopped in the region. Many of the best players in the sport's history are now on the senior tour.

"He's the greatest - more titles than anyone else," Richton Park resident Richard "Doc Hop" Hopson said of Williams. "It's an honor to bowl with a legend. He's the greatest bowler in history.

"I always admired him. He plays it straight down and in, and I play like that, too. Of course I ain't got near the hand he has."

Tour director John Weber drew the lanes and pros at random and did not reveal any of the pairings prior to Monday's sign-ins for the three squads. The highlight of the first squad was the presence of demonstrative ball of emotion Pete Weber. The late squad featured Wayne Webb.

Competition begins today with eight games of qualifying. The number of registered pros is down just a handful to 110, including several locals. Several very accomplished players had to duck out because of sponsor obligations at a trade show.

ESPN bowling commentator and PBA50 tour participant Randy Pedersen, who has a title this year, is in Hammond for the first time as a competitor.

As he signed an autograph on a signature-filled Roto Grip for 20-year-old Dyer resident Andrew Mielcarek, Pedersen noted how important events such as pro-ams are.

"Obviously they're great fans if they know who I am," Pedersen said. "We're ambassadors of the sport, and it's our job to make these people feel like they did the right thing by coming out and bowling this pro-am with us."

Pedersen answered all kinds of questions for fans and enjoyed his afternoon on the lanes.

"We've got to give back to keep this sport alive because they say it's barely hanging on," Pedersen said. "Our pro-am is the opportunity to do that and give back to the fans."