None left standing… that should be the motto of every bowler whether it is on their first or second shot. And of course, that time for at least a brief moment, when you are the best the game has ever seen; when you have thrown back 120 pins on 12 consecutive shots. Yes I’m referring to one of the sport’s “Holy Grails”, the elusive perfect score of 300. Many bowlers never aspire to those ranks and say what you will about the number of perfect games increasing as technology has made its advances in the sport. But, once all else boils away, the facts still remain. A player may get lucky on a couple of shots but, much must be said for the level of skill it takes to accomplish the feat. I can say this with a great deal of confidence there is nothing like the feeling the first time you achieve perfection. With all of that said, there is one feeling, I must confess, is a very close second. And that would be watching someone you have coached for a very long time finally reach that pinnacle. I’ve had that pleasure on several occasions and I’m not sure I can quite describe the euphoria but, allow me to try. In that brief moment when the last pin succumbs and slams to the deck, time seems to slow down. The reaction of the bowler is awesome to see and, for that brief moment, I’m right there at the foul line with them. Then the second wave, suddenly you focus only on that athlete while the commotion ensues around them. Well-wishers, opponents, and those who have gathered to watch are delighted by witnessing the feat. In that moment, only you see the athlete deep inside them. You know the struggles, the hours of work, and the demons which have tormented them. But, what you see is the sum total of all that in this one moment in time where everything seems right and everything has come together to bring that specific athlete to this moment of destiny. As a coach, these are among the best times, when you get to take the back seat and just revel in the moment watching someone you’ve mentored come of age. It’s moments like this that make me realize why I do what I do. Coaching is not about me, it has never been about me and I’ve understood that all along. It’s about giving back to a sport that I love deeply and to simply do what I can to help others enjoy it at whatever level they aspire to. I’ve known this all along but, what I was not prepared for was a whole other level as a coach. I’ve experienced a rare and wonderful feeling that not many have had the opportunity to experience and the funny part is I never saw it coming. This happened to me on exactly October 11, 2014 and here is that story.
It was a typical Saturday morning where I found myself in a familiar setting working with some Junior bowlers in our program. The scratch division was on a particular tricky sport condition and they were having issues with consistency. So, as I do most Saturdays after they are finished, I worked with them to help them see what they had been missing. I set up our targeting system on the lanes and reinforced seeing the lane from the foul line to the pins as well as from side to side. Once they had settled in and could hit the targets they began to do much better and their confidence began to return. After an hour or so, I relieved my daughter in the pro-shop so she could make the trek southward to Alley Katz where she and my wife would bowl in a Rhode Island Ladies Classic (RILC) singles tournament. I arrived some time later at around the begging of game 2 of the 5 game block to find my daughter Courtney bowling well and comfortably within contention to make match play. I am usually the tournament director for these events but, due to circumstances on this occasion, was a little late. Luckily, my son in law, Ian was at the ready to fill in for me. Courtney was throwing a Brunswick Vintage LT-48 and had a really good look with it as long as she was mindful of managing her ball speed. We spoke briefly and she mentioned she had made the move from her IQ Tour Fusion to the LT-48 just recently due to lane transition. It was clearly the right move given it kept her on the scoring pace. A quick check of her scores confirmed that for me. Out of the gate game one she put up a 248 where game two was a 208 marking the transition and ball change. Game three she bounced back with a 236 and was well on her way to a solid block and a berth into match play. When it came time for match play, Courtney was savvy enough to realize the lanes she would be competing on were fresh and made a bold and confident move back to her IQ Tour Fusion. That was experience talking right there. A lot of bowlers may not have had the foresight or confidence to make that move; often times that is what costs them in the end. During match play it was clear she was on point and the strongest two throughout match play progressed to the title match. I had set up the video camera for the title match as I always do in anticipation for putting another quality ladies final on youtube for all to enjoy. Courtney faced Chris Green in the final who is a veteran bowler in the area and has a great deal of experience locally and has bowled on the national scene. Most times in the past it would have been a case where Courtney has the least experienced but, that can hardly be said at this point. She has competed collegiately and has 4 years of post-collegiate bowling under her belt. Courtney has been exposed to more than most bowlers are in a lifetime. She has bowled many national high level women’s events including; Queens, Team Trials, and the US Open. Courtney has also bowled regionally against a consistently strong male dominated field in the New England Bowlers Association (NEBA) tournaments. When you look at it from that point of view, she has seen a lot and has fought her way through it. Most people, in our area at least, are shocked when the actually see a female throw the ball as well as she does. Although the novelty and “cuteness” factor has started to wear off a bit. The two of them locked horns in the title match and it turned out to be one for the ages. Through six frames, Courtney was perfect and Chris had left the door open for her. I watched as did the growing collection of spectators as Courtney threw each shot with poise and an unshakable confidence. The first six shots in that match had been executed flawlessly each a mirror of the previous. And the result the same, 10 straight back. Her 4th shot leaked a little wide but, flushed nevertheless. Then shots 7 and 8, same story … flush. Shot 9 was a little bit of a tug but held for yet another. The match was over by the 8th frame but, things had suddenly gotten serious…9 straight strikes without a sign of it stopping. I thought to myself, “The first shot of the 10th is the hardest”. I noticed a slight pause, I assumed Courtney was trying to compose herself. But, as with the previous 9 shots poise and confidence prevailed and she had the front 10. Was it going to happen this time? By now a noticeable crowd had gathered as was evident by the sudden outburst of applause as if they knew the importance of getting by the first shot in the 10th. It was then someone mentioned that a lady had not bowled a perfect game in that house since 1981. I was astonished but my mind could not take that in at the moment. I was focused on how Courtney would react to the situation. The title match and on camera in a singles tournament format added to the pressure. It was without a doubt excruciating to watch as she prepared for the next shot. Everything was as before, just as she had been trained, pre-shot routine intact and focus on only the shot in front of her. Poise and confidence to the line but, it got right off her hand a little faster than the others. “C’mon ball!” I yelled from the back and it responded as if somehow it heard me. I’m sure Courtney was talking to it all the way down the lane as well. It just caught the head pin and sent it to the side wall. The 2 pin was standing late and something tripped it forward, number 11! Applause erupted from the crowd as we all waited in anticipation of the outcome of the last shot. As Courtney waited for the ball to return, I could see the focus. She drew a slow deep breath with along exhale, no doubt trying to calm her nerves. As she set for the final shot I caught myself uttering very quietly, “c’mon kid one time, like you’ve done thousands of times before, just one”. To the line one final time but, again the ball leaked right quickly and I yelled “C’mon ball”, it must have heard me again. It got back to the pocket flat. The 7 and 10 stood defiantly but, two pins from each side wall toppled them too. The crowd erupted and I no doubt screamed the loudest. As for Courtney, she pumped her fists in triumph and probably a little defiant rage. Then the well of emotion gushed and tears were produced abundantly.
Chris Green was the first to embrace her no doubt expressing her congratulations. I along with others added our affection and acknowledgement of the moment in time where Courtney was perfect. Her legs must have felt like rubber as shed collapsed onto a nearby chair face in her hands. This had been a long road with many near misses but, the ending could not be more story book like… match play finals for a title, on film, and in a house that had seen a 33 year drought between 300 games thrown by a lady.
Amidst all the commotion, a few minutes later Linda Chiaradio, the only other lady to throw a 300 in that house, came down to the center just to meet and congratulate Courtney. It was an awesome moment and one I’m sure Courtney will never forget.