Teenage bowling phenoms, some of whom have already made their mark in the sport’s adult world, have joined the invasion of young bowlers who have come to the Buffalo area for two major United States Bowling Congress events.
Around 500 young bowlers from 30 different states have taken to the lanes the first two days of the USBC’s Bowling.com Youth Open Championship at AMF Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga.
Today, the action really kicks in when a record field of 2,770 begins competititon in the USBC Junior Gold Tournament at six different local venues with $200,000 in scholarships at stake.
The Junior Gold program, now in its 17th year, has produced several current stars on the adult bowling tours. The past winners list alone includes: Marshall Kent, Brittni Hamilton, Olivia Sandham, Missy Bellinger, Shannon Pluharsky, Stefanie Nation and Matthew O’Grady.
The current youth crop is just as impresssive. It includes Wesley Low Jr., of Palmdale, Calif., Kamron Doyle of Brentwood, Tenn., and local standouts Chad Mee of Hamburg, Andrew Herbert of Eden and Melanie Hannon of Cheektowaga.
Low won the Junior Gold boys U20 division last year in Indianapolis. At the age of 15 he became the youngest bowler ever to win a PBA Regional title, breaking the record set by PBA Hall of Famer Pete Weber in 1979. Low, who uses the two-handed style, won a tournament in Las Vegas two years ago. Besides winning the U20 title last year, he won the U14 Junior Gold title in 2011.
Doyle’s resume also is remarkable. Now 16, he once was the youngest person in USBC history to record a sanctioned 800 series when he bowled an 802 at age 11 years, 60 days. He also became the youngest ever to cash in a PBA tournament when he finished 30th among 94 bowlers in a South Region event in Georgia.
Doyle won his first PBA regional title at the PBA Lightning Lanes Challenge in Marion, N.C., in May at the age of 16 years, 4 months. Additionally, he has “cashed” in the last two U.S. Opens, finishing ahead of prominent pros such as Tommy Jones, Amleto Monacelli, Tom Baker, Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Parker Bohn III.
Low was third and Doyle fourth in the recent Teen Masters.
Mee has won five PBA one-day regional events as an amateur. As an eighth-grader he won the Section VI championship, the first of five straight trips to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships. One of his most impressive feats came two years ago when he led the qualifying for the George A. Obenauer Masters Tournament.
Hannon also has been a sectional champion and led teams to state high school championships. Twice, she was a finalist in the Teen Masters tournament. A Dexter High School All-American, she was a winner of the USBC’s Aleta Crowe Star of Tomorrow, another prestigious award, two years ago. Last winter she was a standout as a freshman on the Fairleigh Dickinson University varsity team.
Most of the Junior Gold entrants arrived over the weekend for practice rounds, to bowl in the Youth Open and some to enter the Adult-Child Tournament.
Junior Gold will wrap up with championship rounds on Friday at AMF Airport Lanes, but the Youth Open will pick up again on Thursday after a three-day hiatus and continue through Saturday, July 27. The participation level for Youth Open is impressive already, considering only two locals, Hannon and Erie Community College standout Elizabeth Szpara, bowled the first two days.
It’s impressive, too, considering that earlier this month a USBC Western Region Youth Open was held in Southern California. Still, bowlers from western States such as Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Montana have made the trek here to compete against a national field.
Last year’s champions were: Cortez Schenck of Chandler, Ariz., and Taylor Russell of Belden, Miss., in the boys and girls Under 15 divisions and Low and Julia Bond of Aurora, Ill. in U20. Boys and girls 12U divisions were added to the competition this year.
Bond will bowl for perennial collegiate power Nebraska starting in the fall.
Junior Gold competitors will bowl five games of qualifying (four games for U12) each today, Tuesday and Wednesday before the cut for a final qualifying round on Thursday. The top 16 in each division will begin match play on Thursday with finals on Friday.
AMF Thruway, Transit and AMF Airport will be venues for boys qualifying. AMF Lancaster, Classic and Tonawanda will be used for girls qualifying. After the cut, the final qualifying round and all match play will be held at AMF Airport. Matches are two games total pinfall.
At the same time, Survivors matches will be bowled at Transit Lanes. The Adult-Youth tournament will continue until Wednesday at Broadway Sports Center.