Cross country runner bowling 'em over on professional duckpin circuit
By Jason Tierinni/Sports Information Staff
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- Sophomore Kyle Shaw of Lebanon runs cross country for Eastern Connecticut State University, but one thing many people may not know about him is that he is a professional duckpin bowler, as well.
Shaw was in a youth duckpin bowling league until this past year. Now he is in an official professional duckpin bowling league. In his youth league, he competed in five or six tournaments a year, winning the national invitational tournament two years ago. That tournament is the big individual tournament that everyone really strives to win, Shaw exclaimed. Last year, he finished second in the national tournament, losing in the final by two pins. The five years prior to winning the national invitational tournament, Shaw was ranked in the top ten in the country for all boys.
To date, Shaw has competed in three professional duck pin bowling tournaments. He has not won any of those yet but says that "it's on my list to win a few."
Duckpin bowling has rules similar to ten-pin bowling. In ten-pin and in duckpin, bowlers try to knock down pins in the fewest rolls per frame. In duckpin, bowlers have three balls per frame but in ten-pin bowling bowlers have two balls per frame to knock over the set of ten pins.
The balls used in duckpin bowling are 4-3/4 in (12 cm) to 5 in (12.7 cm) in diameter, weigh 3 lb 6 oz to 3 lb 12 oz each, and lack finger holes.
In the youth league, everyone would get ranked by average at the end of the year. When Shaw first made the ranking at the age of 12 he was No. 38 in the country among all boys. Usually, no one under the age of 16 makes it into that ranking, pointed out Shaw. At the age of 14, he moved up in the ranking to No. 8. At age 15, he advanced to No. 2 in the country, and from then on, has had the No. 1 ranking for youth duckpin bowlers.
This past year -- his last in the youth league - Shaw's "pin fall" (number of pins knocked down per match) was 147.7 - more than 22 pins more than his nearest state competitor. "The top professional men's duckpin bowlers in the country average about 151-152," Shaw explained.
Heading into the men's professional duckpin bowling league, the 19-year-old Shaw was ranked No. 2 in the state, and in the top ten in the country among adults.
In order to maintain the success he had in the youth league and transfer it to the men's professional league, where he is bowling now, the 5-foot-9 inch, 130 pound Shaw says he needs to keep up his practice. "It shows when you don't practice for a while or don't practice as much." Shaw said. He also says that "one or two bad weeks can really hurt you in the long run." Shaw said that this year he hasn't started off "too hot." He knows it is the professional league now, but he says he doesn't bowl any differently than if he was bowling in the youth league. "Besides the fact that there is money on the table, I still go out and throw every ball I can the best I can."
Shaw originally got into duckpin bowling because his father, Lynwood, started working at Lucky Strike Lanes in Mansfield when Shaw was three-years-old. He began bowling by himself while his dad was working and eventually he "just got the hang of it", and has been bowling ever since.
The popularity of duckpin bowling has been on the decline in recent year. Thus, the number of alleys dedicated to duckpin bowling has been decreasing. Shaw said that there are only presently about eight lanes in the state dedicated to duckpin bowling , down from about 20 over the last ten years.
Shaw competes in a professional duckpin bowling league once a week and sometimes will compete in a tournament on a weekend. Despite carrying a full load of classes and training for cross country most every day, Shaw is normally at Lucky Strike practicing three-to-four-times a week, two-to- three hours per day, for an average of between eight and ten hours per week.
The primary difference between duckpin bowling and ten-pin -- other than the scoring -- has to do with the technique, says Shaw. "In ten-pin you have the large ball which can cover almost half the lane at once, where in duckpin, you can chop right through one pin. Physically, there is a lot more skill required in duckpin."
"There is a big mental game involved in duckpin bowling", explains Shaw. "In ten-pin you can hit the pocket one hundred different times and get ninety-nine different strikes. In duckpin, you could hit the pocket one hundred times and leave ninety nine different splits." Shaw believes that this is the reason why no one - incredibly -- has ever bowled a perfect game in duckpin.
The mental game Shaw needs for duckpin bowling is indeed similar to the one he needs for cross country. He says that throwing a bad ball in duckpin can be equivalent to having a bad mile split or bad race.
"You can't get down on yourself. You just got to keep going and do your best every single time no matter what," he says.
The biggest similarity Shaw drew from competing in a professional duckpin bowling league and running cross country is the discrepancy in attitudes that he observes.
"Everyone really seems to enjoy running cross country," he points out, "where in duckpin bowling, I see a lot of the guys doing it more for the money and not for the fun. That's where the term game starts to fade away." Shaw says he always tries to keep in the back of his mind that "it's just a game, don't get mad."
A goal for Shaw is to be the best professional duckpin bowler in the nation, but he cautions that "I will have to step it up because the guys at the top are tough."
Kathy Manizza, Eastern's cross country and track & field coach,
offers that "Kyle has a tough job of balancing work, two sports, and academics. He is also a commuter, so he can't give 100 percent to cross country like he would like to. I know at times this frustrates him -- because he knows he could be faster with more training -- but he also needs to devote time to bowling."
Manizza went on to say that Shaw, "is very conscientious about the team and not letting the team down, so he does the best he can." She then explained that, "He did not run track at Eastern last year, but he is going to give indoor a try this year, and then during the outdoor season, he will focus more on bowling."
On a normal day, Shaw finds himself going from class to cross country practice before stopping at home briefly to grab his gear and a quick bite to eat before going off to the lanes to practice bowling.
Throughout the day he must determine when he will have time to go bowling that week.
"Sometimes I am out the door at eight in the morning and my parents don't see me till ten at night." says Shaw of his jam-packed schedule.
But even with such a full schedule he feels that bowling is not a "schedule-packer but a relaxer" because it is fun. Manizza noted, "It's awesome that he's able to do so many things that he enjoys and is very good at."
If Shaw does have any down time in his crammed schedule and he isn't practicing picking up seven-ten splits, he can be found biking or running on a nearby trail.