INDIANAPOLIS – The qualifying portion of the 2021 Junior Gold Championships reached its halfway point Tuesday as bowlers in each of the three age-based divisions for boys and girls (18-and-under, 15-and-under and 12-and-under) completed their second four-game qualifying block. That leaves just two days and eight games remaining before the first cuts are made to the advancers round Friday.
Strong scoring pace continues
Several bowlers found success and moved themselves one step closer to making the first cut with strong performances Tuesday.
John Nunn of Jacksonville, Florida, the 2019 U15 champion, rolled games of 244, 237, 245 and 247 at Western Bowl to come away with a 973 set. In his U18 debut, he has a 1,785 total through two rounds, a 223.13 average.
Other boys with strong showings in U18 through the first three squads Tuesday included Daniel Pinn of Sioux Falls, South Dakota (957), Zach Greim of Poway, California (952), and Ryan Toffoli of Miami (948).
Greim has a two-day total of 1,822, Pinn is at 1,814 for two rounds and Toffoli is at 1,730.
In the girls division for U18, Junior Team USA member Jillian Martin of Stow, Ohio, had another solid day, following up her opening-round 931 total, which included her first 300 game, with 862 during Round 2. She has knocked over 1,793 pins through eight games, a 224.13 average.
Kyleigh Husted of White House, Tennessee, matched Martin’s effort with an 862 of her own Tuesday. She improved her score from Monday by over 100 pins (759) and now sits at 1,621 through two rounds.
Aidan Furukawa of Sunbury, Ohio, rolled a four-game block of 899 in the boys division for U15, which included games of 255 and 248. His eight-game total is 1,737 (217.13 average).
Melia Mitskavich of Du Bois, Pennsylvania, carded a 258 of her own on the way to an 843 total in U15. She has averaged more than 206 for her two rounds and sits at 1,653.
Jos Weems of Chicago rolled games of 198, 212, 187 and 216 for an 813 set to push his tournament average over 200 in the boys division for U12 with a 1,601 total (200.13 average). Opening-round leader Matteo Quintero of Smyrna, Tennessee, nearly matched Jos’ effort with 797. After posting 952 on Monday, Matteo has an overall total of 1,749, a 218.63 average.
Alyvia Matiasek of Lockport, Illinois, started her day in the girls division for U12 with a 227 game on the way to a 679 total to improve on her first four-game block by 123 pins. She has a two-round score of 1,235.
Same objective, many different approaches
Twenty years ago, it is very likely that you could have watched youth bowling tournaments across the United States without seeing a two-handed bowler. Ten years ago, with Professional Bowlers Association superstar Jason Belmonte firmly established on the bowling scene, you would almost certainly have seen at least a couple of two-handers competing here and there, but, at that time, they still would have been considered something of a novelty.
Fast forward to 2021, and two-handed bowlers are everywhere. Young and old, men and women, veterans and newcomers alike, the combination of speed, athleticism and power on display with the two-handed game is winning more and more bowlers over every day.
That fact is clearly evident to anyone taking in the Junior Gold Championships, as there are simply too many two-handers to count among this year’s tournament competitors. With that being said, there still are plenty of “traditional” players out there as well.
So, that begs the question: What is influencing the next generation of bowlers when they choose to pursue one style over the other?
“My dad works at a bowling alley, and he wanted me to try it to see if I’d like it. That was the first time I picked up the ball, and I just stuck with it,” said Angel Gustafson of Seminole, Florida, who’s competing this week in the girls division for U18. “I’ve tried traditional bowling just for fun, but I didn’t like it. I like standing out.”
Fellow U18 bowler Kelcey Aczon-Kawamura of Las Vegas also enjoys the stand-out nature of two-handed bowling, and she’d encourage other young girls to consider it as well.
“Two-handed is just a unique style, especially on the women’s side of bowling. You just don’t see much of that,” Aczon-Kawamura said. “Gender doesn’t really define a style, so I think more young girls should give two-handed a try because it’s different, and it’s fun.”
Individuality on full display
Spectators walking into any one of the six bowling centers being used during Junior Gold qualifying will quickly notice a couple of things.
The first is that there is an amazing amount of bowling talent on display, regardless of which division is on the lanes at any given time. The second is that each and every bowler has his or her own sense of style, and they’re not afraid to show it off.
Uniquely designed jerseys, clever accessories and flashy color schemes abound at Junior Gold. Some bowlers keep it simple by wearing jerseys displaying the name of the high school or college team they represent, what city they’re from or which ball manufacturer is their favorite.
Others go in a different direction, sporting clothing and accessories all their own.
Jameson St. George of Forest Lake, Minnesota, came to Tuesday’s qualifying round sporting a colorful jersey designed to promote cluster headache awareness in support of fellow Minnesota youth bowler Aizec Olson.
Emma Peruzzi of Columbus, Ohio, donned a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” jersey affiliated with her 10 Pin Radio League back home, where each bowler wears a jersey connected to either Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo or Donatello.
But perhaps the most interesting, and entertaining, story behind jersey selection came from Nathan Danz of New Palestine, Indiana. Danz and his doubles partner, Christian Luna, were struggling to find a way to come up with a name that celebrated each of their different heritages. What they landed upon was a stroke of genius.
“Since I’m American and Christian is Mexican, we looked for something that could combine the two,” Danz said. “After a while, we came up with American Taquitos, and we just sort of stuck with it.”
Because, why not?
Other explanations for the display of interesting bowling garb included simply liking the look of his superhero jersey (Chase Cagnolatti of Prairieville, Louisiana), wearing a jersey specially designed for all Pepsi state winners from his hometown bowling center (Hayden Reitz of Brookway, Pennsylvania), and wanting to show off the new bowling socks that she got for her 16th birthday last Sunday (Brooke Kochel of Carbondale, Illinois).
But no matter what they’re wearing and for what reason, this year’s Junior Gold bowlers all seem to be looking good, feeling good and enjoying their tournament experience.
Strike Force Lanes enjoying Junior Gold experience
Anyone who has ever attempted to host a bowling tournament knows just how much hard work and how many long hours it takes to make things go off smoothly. When that tournament is an event the size and scope of Junior Gold, that task becomes even more daunting. Nevertheless, Strike Force Lanes General Manager Rob Barnhart and his staff have nothing but positive things to say about their first time as a host center for the nation’s premier youth event.
“I’ll knock on wood because I don’t want to jinx anything, but I feel great about how it’s been going so far,” Barnhart said. “Being first timers, this is the biggest stage we’ve ever been on. We’ve hosted other events, but nothing the scale of Junior Gold. We’re just in awe of the event itself.”
Ron’s wife Linda, Strike Force’s office manager, shared many of her husband’s feelings about serving as host. However, she also was quick to offer thanks to the many other people and organizations working behind the scenes to help Strike Force make the event a success.
“It has taken a village to run this event from our end,” Linda Barnhart said. “We got the bleachers from the local Boys & Girls Club and from the high school, and there are lots of others who have helped out as well. It’s a big event, and Greenfield people need to know how big it really is.”
At the end of the day, what Barnhart wants more than anything is for the event to help the people in Greenfield and the greater Indianapolis area as a whole. On that front, he wanted to thank Strike Force Lanes Youth Director Brian Petrey, who Barnhart says was a driving force behind getting Strike Force affiliated with Junior Gold.
But just like his colleagues, Petrey, who also serves as Commissioner of Indiana High School Bowling and tournament director of the Indiana State Youth Bowling Open Championships, didn’t want to take any of the credit for himself.
“Rob and Linda gave me a start running their youth leagues out of Strike Force. Eleven years later, it’s built into this,” Petrey said. “I definitely wouldn’t be doing all of the things I’m doing today if they hadn’t given me this opportunity.”
Regardless of who has helped whom, the end result seems to be a great tournament experience for all Junior Gold bowlers who have gotten the chance to bowl at Strike Force Lanes. Because of that, Ron Barnhart would welcome the opportunity to host Junior Gold again, and he’d encourage other bowling centers to do the same.
“We’d absolutely love to be involved with Junior Gold again if the opportunity presented itself,” Barnhart said. “Strike Force being involved has been a really nice thing for Greenfield itself and for Indianapolis, and I’m sure the same is true for other communities as well. I would like to thank USBC and Junior Gold for this opportunity.”