By Debbie Juniewicz, Contributing WriterUpdated 7:55 AM Tuesday, March 22, 2011
KETTERING — He was perfect through nine frames, but that’s when the nerves set in.
“I was shaking and the ball felt like bricks, it was so heavy,” Keith Schooler said. “But I thought to myself, ‘You can’t back down now.’ ”
While Schooler approached the lanes like a bowling veteran, wrapping up a perfect 300 game three balls later, he is still a bit of a rookie. The Jefferson Township bowler is only 10-years old.
Schooler is one of a growing number of young bowlers posting honors scores. The Greater Dayton United States Bowling Congress Association has recorded 10 300 games by youth bowlers this season, up from seven a year ago.
“The youth bowlers shooting the honor scores are getting much younger,” Fairmont High School bowling coach Rex Wolfe said.
Wolfe knows that firsthand; his 13-year-old daughter Jessica has bowled two perfect games this season, most recently on March 12.
And if Schooler is any indication, these young bowlers aren’t going to be satisfied with a single honor score.
“I want to move on to an 800 series,” he said, smiling.
‘Couldn’t believe it’
Schooler has no memory of the final strike of his 300.
“I think I fainted for a few seconds and the next thing I knew everyone was on top of me, congratulating me,” Schooler said.
The Ascension fifth-grader emerged from the pile-on with an enormous grin as a quick glance at the monitor confirmed that he had rolled his first 300 game. At 10 years and 10 months, Schooler became the youngest bowler in the Greater Dayton bowling association to post a perfect game.
“After the first nine, I thought, maybe, it could happen,” Schooler said. “I just knew I had to hit my mark.”
His mom, Terri, a longtime bowler herself, watched excitedly from the concourse as her son struck, frame after frame, 12 strikes in all.
“About the fifth frame, I started texting my husband, ‘He got the first five, he got the first six,’ ” said Terri, who has yet to bowl a 300. “When it was over, I had to send him a picture of the screen. He couldn’t believe it.”
Schooler’s bowling success might be, in part, genetic. His dad, Byron, has 43 300 games to his credit, but the rest is all Keith. His determination was evident when he was just a toddler stubbornly refusing to use bumpers.
“I hated bumpers, I thought it was like cheating,” Schooler said.
While Schooler’s perfect score was a local record, he was shy of the state record by eight months as Columbus bowler Chaz Dennis was just 10 years and 2 months old when he did the same in 2006, setting a state and national record. Michigan bowler Brandie Reamy has the national record for girls at 12 years, 4 months.
The Dayton association’s 10 perfect games recorded by youth bowlers this season does not surprise Schooler’s travel team coach, Lloyd Lyons.
“It’s amazing to watch these kids bowl,” Lyons said. “It’s very exciting to see them succeed like this, especially at this age. I’m lucky I get to help them out.”
Lyons has seen lots of success this season. Averages for his 9-12 year-olds range from the 140s to the 180s. He watched Schooler, Hunter Schlegel, Dylan Terrell and his son Paul Lyons roll an 850 scratch series in league play. All four of the bowlers are 12 or younger.
“That’s better than a lot of high school bowlers,” Lyons said. “That’s saying a lot because I look at those high school kids bowl and I wouldn’t want to compete against them.”
While he has yet to hit junior high, Schooler is already looking forward to competing for the Fairmont Firebirds, a team that has qualified to state 10 of the past 11 years.
With the growing pool of young talent in the area and across the country, it is understandable that bowling has become one of the fastest growing high school sports. Once widely considered a club or recreational sport, more than 5,000 schools in 47 states now offer boys and girls high school programs with more than 50,000 participating students.
“You have to have good youth programs if you want good high school programs,” Wolfe, Fairmont’s coach, said. “They’ve got 180 kids at Woodman, and they start them at 6. When they show up at high school, they aren’t just bowlers, they are good bowlers.”