John F. Russell: Seeking the perfect game

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— As I stepped onto the approach at the Brunswick Circle Lanes in Colorado Springs last Saturday night, I was trying to think about anything but my score.

I’ve bowled since I was a child, and for nearly 20 years, I’ve spent 30-plus weeks each winter bowling. During that time, I’ve reached a number of milestones, including my first 600 and 700 series.

But this time, the feeling was different.

As I stared at my mark on the lane, I tried to act like I was rolling any other ball in any other frame. I tried to forget that my arm felt like Jell-O and my knees were shaking so much that I resembled Elvis Presley in concert. I tried to forget that my first 10 balls were all strikes and that I was on the verge of the perfect game.

When my second ball of the tenth frame hit in the pocket, I was optimistic, but luck wasn’t on my side this time. The pins flew around the lane like bumper cars at an amusement park, but when they came to a stop, the 7 pin stood in the corner. I picked up the spare, but the best chance I’ve ever had at a 300 game was gone. I bowled a 289, a great game, but I couldn’t stop feeling like I let the moment slip away.

I had been presented with one of those rare opportunities in life when everything almost came together, and I realized how difficult perfect is to attain.

On paper, and in my mind, the idea of scoring a 300 seems pretty simple. But after years of bowling in local leagues, I’ve discovered just how rare the chance can be. It’s one thing to throw a couple of strikes in a game or even string four or five.

But that 15.5-pound ball seems to get heavier as the strikes add up, and by the time you get to the 10th, it feels like there is a Ford truck hanging from the end of your arm.

The more you focus on the score, the harder it becomes to remain calm on the approach. Nerves you never knew you had start to twitch and the task of rolling the ball is harder than figuring out a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.

Nobody in Steamboat understands those feelings better than Snow Bowl owner Dewey Whitecotton. He’s thrown eight perfect games in his life, including one last winter. But Dewey, who carried a 213 average last season, doesn’t take those games for granted.

“It’s never easy,” he said about throwing the perfect game. “It seems like they come in bunches, and it’s always pretty special.”

He is part of a small group of local bowlers who have reached perfection that includes Tony Carlson, Tony Pipkin and Joyce Hoekstra.

I hope to have another chance someday. But I left the lanes Saturday night with a new appreciation for the perfect game and the bowlers who have accomplished it.

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