On a roll: Edmonton teen strikes perfect bowling score

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On a roll: Edmonton teen strikes perfect bowling score

Twelve strikes in a row is perfection, as the bowling kingpins say.

Garrett Wong achieved a rare feat Saturday by bowling a perfect game of 300 during the Ed's Bowling Youth League Championship at West Edmonton Mall.

"It was surreal," the 18-year-old said. "My heart was racing but my mind wasn't."

Six weeks ago, Wong scored 299 points — one pin short of perfection — and was ready to write off the rest of the season. He said his positive attitude is what spared him.

"It's been rough, but it just gives you more fuel to the fire just to keep pushing. You know you'll get there one day, but you just have to not expect too much of yourself and go with the flow," Wong said.

"To fill the entire scoreboard feels amazing."

Representing Alberta

It has already been a big year for the 10-pin bowler. In March, he made nationals for the first time. The accomplishment comes after he finished second five times in a row.

On May 31, he'll represent Alberta at the Youth National Championships in Montreal, where $1,000 in scholarship money is up for grabs. Wong, who has been bowling since the age of 10, said finally making nationals has alleviated some stress from his game.

"I've been able to focus more on having fun, and then by having more fun, I've shot higher scores," he said.  

In Edmonton's league, he said there is no real competition.

"We're all just bowling against the pins."

The process, not score

When Wong was 14, his coach Ben Hansen died of cancer, sending him into a two-year slump.

"He was like a father figure," Wong said. "It was pretty rough."

He said his current coach, Matt Dammann, approached him because he wasn't bowling well. Wong trained at the Kegel Training Center in Florida for a few weeks to learn the sport's intricacies.

"It took a lot to get here," he said. "Every single shot that you throw, it feels like you earned it. It's not necessarily a luck thing."

Wong said he learned to focus on the process, not the score — though with an average score of 206, he's scoring pretty high. The closest average score of his age group is about 180.

"I started with a 120 average and it's just been jumping 10 pins every single year," Wong said. "So just to be able to be consistent is what I enjoy the most, while being able to average that high."

Rare feat in a challenging game

Wong said bowling can be physically and mentally challenging, especially when he has to keep his nerves in check. As he learned the sport's complexities, he had to teach his supportive parents, Phyllis and Gordon Wong, how it worked.

"There's a lot more to the game than it looks, because the oil [on the lane] is invisible so it's basically like golf, but the obstacles are invisible," he said. "And then the lanes are always changing as well. So it's like after every single shot, the golf course would change, essentially."  

Figuring out one way to roll doesn't guarantee a strike every time because the oil burns up, he said. Players have to think about the physics of energy and managing friction.

Only two other Edmonton youth have accomplished a perfect game in the last 15 years, said Troy Thatchuk, league supervisor at Ed's Bowling. Thatchuk is one of those people.

Now 28, Thatchuk has been bowling since he was two. He holds the record for being the youngest person in Alberta to bowl a perfect game. He was 15 at the time.

He has coached Wong before.

"It's very, very rare to see a youth bowler — especially in the province of Alberta — do this level of success and have a perfect game," Thatchuk said.

"It takes a lot of work to get to that level, and he's put in the hard work. He has dedicated his life to this sport."  

The popularity of bowling has been on the decline, but Thatchuk hopes Wong's success helps the sport grow.

"We're hoping it's like vinyl records — eventually, it just starts to resurge," he said.

'He's got a great future'

Jules Soetaert, 87, is the oldest person in North America to shoot back-to-back perfect games, earning the title when he was 77.

The Edmonton man started bowling at 32, after he saw it on black-and-white television.

Soetaert said he was happy for Wong to join the perfect score club.

"He throws such a nice ball, it's just unbelievable. It seems to come natural for him," he said.

"To see a young fellow like that in our youth program, it's very encouraging to see what he has accomplished. He's got a great future for himself in bowling."

As for the immediate future, Wong is going into kinesiology at the University of Alberta this fall and plans on saving his spare time for the bowling alley.