Andy Mank (P-D)
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Belleville — Andy Mank was just helping out a pal. Turns out, things worked out perfectly.
Subbing for his friend, David Briley, in the men's handicap league March 18 at Bel-Air Bowl, Mank rolled a 900 series — three perfect games.
"He called me at the last minute and said he had to go to work," Mank said. "It was rare that he called me, so I wasn't expecting it."
Mank's feat — 36 strikes in a row — also could be classified as rare, according to Sandy Darnstaedt, president of the Tri-County Illinois Association of the U.S. Bowling Congress. The USBC has sanctioned Mank's 900, the first perfect series in Illinois or Missouri and the 16th nationally since 1997.
"Since it happens only about once a year, it's a pretty big deal," she said.
Mank, 22, started bowling at age 3 and entered his first league — with bumpers in the gutters — a year later. He bowls three to five nights a week and would like to turn pro some day but is studying welding at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville to have something to fall back on.
He said he had rolled 16 perfect games, the most recent in November, and had an 840 series as a senior at Belleville East High.
The experience helped Mank keep his cool on the big night. He had seen a small crowd gather for the ninth or 10th frame in many of his previous perfect games and had been able to shut out distractions to seal the deal. The night of the perfect series proved slightly different.
"After he bowled his second 300, there were a few off-the-cuff remarks that maybe he could throw a 900," said Dale Strom, operations manager at Bel-Air. "By the third or fourth frame, people started wandering down to watch. Even I made sure I peeked over to watch him from the fourth frame on. We get a 300 game every couple weeks, but I realized this was something special that I didn't want to miss."
By the time Mank reached the ninth frame of the third game, Strom said, the entire crowd of roughly 160 bowlers had gathered around Lanes 1 and 2, where Mank was bowling.
Mank said he realized the perfect series was within reach at that point, when a pin slid across the lane and gently tapped over the 10 pin.
"After the 11th one, that's when I got nervous," he said. "I saw all the other bowlers and the workers standing around. I said, 'I guess I've got to do this.' It's a neat experience to have everyone screaming, but it's still a little hard to believe."
Mank stayed on a roll, so to speak. After his perfect series, he met friends to unwind at the Casino Queen, won $200 in the slot machines but decided to call it a night just after midnight.
"I didn't want to push it," he said. "I think Thursday was my night."
Mank isn't quite finished with the accolades, though. Darnstaedt said that with the certification, the USBC would send Mank a commemorative ring.
"We're still debating what to do for Andy, but I'm sure we'll come up with something," she said.