"I got a little lucky," said 9-year-old Jason Donnell of Ferndale, shrugging off his fantastic 169 duckpin game in the Fair Lanes Southwest Saturday NDYA league.
His coach, Gwen Morel, told a different story: "Jason was throwing the ball exceptionally well that day. Just about every ball was straight at his target."
That's what happens when a young bowler listens to his coach. After opening in the first frame, Jason threw three spares in a row.
That's when his mother, Betty, began to get a little excited.
"I was proud of what Jason was doing," she said. "Three spares with good counts on each of them is great, but I really got nervous when he threw the three strikes in a row."
Those three strikes came after open frames in the fifth and sixth boxes. And he topped them off with a spare in the 10th. If he had counted five on that spare ball instead of just four, Jason would have had a 170 game.
The fourth-grader at St. Phillip Neri will accept the 169 because it shattered the previous high game.
"I told Jason it would be nice if could beat the 120 high game," Betty said, "but I never expected a 169."
Betty, a federal employee, and Jason's dad, Bob, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, don't bowl. Jason started just three years ago and isaveraging 86. That November afternoon, he started with an 81 game, shot the
169 and came back with a third game of 110 for his career-high series of 360.
Morel, a youth coach for 25 years, carries a 118 average at Fair Lanes Southwest in the Thursday Ladies Scratch League and has a high game of 193 with a high set of 484.
Jason bowlsin the league that is called Gwen's Angels, and if you want your youngster to get a thorough grounding in duckpin fundamentals, I suggestyou stop in at Southwest and see Morel.
Or see any of the coachesthat devote their time to the kids. Not all of the coaches have the years of experience that Morel has, but they're just as devoted to the youngsters.
Jo Phillips is in her first year as a coach at Southwest, and she loves it.
"The youth league is great for the whole family," she said. "I like it when the mothers and fathers stay and watch the kids."
Phillips, a Glen Burnie resident, and her husband, Bob, an AT & T software associate, don't bowl, but their 5-year-old son, David, does. David carries a 65 average, and that's not bumper bowling. None of the youth leagues at Southwest use bumpers; the kids score just like the adults.
Ellie Gareis, a co-coach with Phillips,is also in her first year of coaching the youngsters. That's about 35 kids in the Pee Wee division, ages 4 to 8, who are learning to bowl.
Gareis, an employee of Maryland Medical Lab, and her husband, James, a supervisor for Royal Quality Food, have two daughters in the Pee Wees. Anna, 7, has a 64 average, and Jessie, 6, carries a 56 average.
Donna Zentgraf, a Mass Transit Administration specialist, lives in Morrell Park with her husband, Tom, a Postal Service material equipment handler. She coaches their son, Jason, 9, in the Prep Division, where the ages range from 7 to 12.
"They needed a coach for theleague, and I was available," she said. "I guess it was part being drafted and part being a volunteer. But I do love bowling."
Zentgraf carries a 120 average in the Thursday Mixed League at Southwest andhas a high game of 184 and a high series of 430-plus.
Jason's averaging 56. His dad, Tom, bowls both ducks and tenpins and averages 113 in the Thursday Mixed at Southwest and 168 tenpin average at Bowl America Glen Burnie.
"I do wish more of the parents would stay withtheir children when they bowl on Saturdays," Donna said. "It's disheartening to see so many parents drop off the kids and go about their business."
Yvonne Haberkorn, coach for the past 11 years in the youth leagues, concurred, "More parents should participate. The youth leagues should be more than a baby-sitting service. These kids (in theJunior/Major division ages from 13 to 21) really try."
Haberkorn met her husband, Will, a Baltimore City policeman for 30 years, at Greenway Glen Burnie bowling center. Their daughter, Yvonne, 16, is developing into one of elite bowlers in the Baltimore-Washington area.
The young Yvonne, called Blondie, carries a 126 average. That's a 10-pin jump in just the last year. The North County High student has been bowling since she was about 8 years old.
Gerry Falls of Hanover bowls in the Hits and Misses league at Greenway Glen Burnie where she carries a duckpin average of 100.
One day last month, Falls started with an 86 game, just a little below her average, threw a second game of 100 and on the third try threw an eye-opening game of 149.
Falls, a district president for the United Methodist women in the Baltimore Southwest District, has been bowling for only three years.