My First Bowling Plaque

Flute Player by Amanda Beardsley of the Institute of American Indian Arts
Flute Player by Amanda Beardsley of the Institute of American Indian Arts

The sunlight blazed brightly through the thin, white curtains of the motel room, piercing the darkness. Drowsy from the night before, the anticipation of the day’s upcoming events consumed my thoughts. I glanced over to the table by the window to see Rainie sitting there looking out into the cool Montana morning, sipping on a cup of coffee. The dust of the hotel roomed tickled my nose as I took a deep breath, slowly sat up, and got out of bed. Yawning and stretching, the phone rang. It was my teammate, Ival. “You alive? Gotta be there in a few hours,” he said.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be” I muttered.

We made our way down to Sunset Lanes. Butterflies tickled my stomach as I felt my heart racing, ears burning, and stomach twisting. “I hope I bowl well today,” I said softly to Rainie Dee. There must’ve been at least two hundred Natives packed into the front side of the lanes. Laughter engulfed the walls of the alley, sending echoes throughout the alley as we made our way to the front desk to register. The man at the desk directed me to the side of the alley where I’d be bowling. Again the laughter ignited the air; the smell of Icy Hot was pungent as several people massaged it on their shoulders and arms.

Finding a table, I put on my Dexter bowling shoes with samurais printed on the sides. I believed they had powers to help me to bowl better. We watched the two last teams bowl. One bowler looked like a pro with fancy black Dexter shoes, a nice button up shirt, and what looked to be silk pants. He had seven strikes in a row and was on the winning team. “Maybe I bit off more than I can chew coming here to bowl,” I thought. After all, this was my first ever bowling tournament.

I felt a slap on my shoulder causing me to damn near jump. It was Ival. “You ready to bowl?” he asked with a smile on his face. With apprehensions, I quickly pointed out the fancy dressed man who now had eight strikes in a row. “Aaah that aint’ nothing. He’ll choke up,” Ival blurted casually, as he paid no attention to anything else but his shoes. Sure as could be, the man left a few pins standing on the next frame. Grimacing as he missed his spare.

“Don’t get intimidated and just bowl!” said a man from Billings named Cal Walks Over Ice.

As I went up for my turn to roll my first warm up ball, my foot stuck on something wet, and before I could catch myself, I was on my knees sliding across the foul line. The only noise anyone could hear was the buzzer from my limp body sliding onto the lane past the foul line. All eyes pierced me now and the sound of laughter rumbled throughout the bowling alley. I jumped up and played it off. “I’m alright,” I shouted. Maybe I made a mistake coming here.

“Shake it off and warm up kid,” an old man said.

“We’ve all been there,” an old Navajo woman commented as I snuck back up to the lanes to get back in line.

On the next warm up roll, I got a strike. Five minutes or so passed, and I rolled a few more strikes and picked up a few spares. “Teams, it’s time to begin,” said the man at the desk over the intercom.

“Don’t fall again,” I chanted to myself. I released my ball straight down the middle of the lane. I got a strike! Two games passed, and we were leading our opponents. Ival told us all that we had a good chance to take the lead, but we’d have to bowl damn near perfect the last game.

By the fourth frame, Ival said, “You need at least four strikes and the rest spares, to give us a good shot a winning the team event.”

In the fifth frame, I went up and left a two-seven-ten split, which even for a professional bowler, is a tedious pick up. With all the speed I could muster, I let my spare ball go, aiming it at the left side of the two pins. Hearing the roar of cheering, I looked back to see that I had picked up the elusive two-seven-ten split. I rolled five strikes in a row and found myself sitting at 214 in the tenth with two more strikes possible. I looked back and noticed another one of Harlem’s famed bowlers—Will Gray, a.k.a.” The Legend”—who was bowling on another team, and he said, “We’re in first, and it’s gonna be hard to catch us.”

With a cheesy grin I told him, “Two more strikes and if these boys finish strong, we’re gonna beat you guys.” I turned my attention back to the alley and picked up my ball and wiped the excess oil off with my hand towel. “Two more times, just two more times,” I chanted to myself. I slowly walked up and released the ball. To my surprise, the ball hit the head pin on the left side earning me another strike. Excitement followed by a jolt of disappointment and then excitement again—an emotional roller coaster.

“230 plus, even if you don’t get this last one, that’s an awesome score,” my teammate Davis Long Knife told me. On the last shot, I only hit three pins!

I ended up with a 237, which is no small feat in the bowling world. Ival finished with a 218, Davis with a 227, and John Healy with a 205. Altogether, with our combined three game scores and our handicaps taken into consideration, we ended up with a final score of 2,856 pins. After a long half hour or so, the results were posted. VFW from Harlem Montana were the winners. I couldn’t believe it. We won! The Legend shook my hand. I had taken on The Legend!

Over the years, I have amassed a pretty sizable collection of trophies and plaques, but none are more memorable than this one. I learned how to handle pressure in different situations from this experience. Being on the center stage, one may either fold under pressure or choose to overcome and shine. I chose to shine like the blazing sun. The same sun that pierced through that morning, waking me up to victory.

Jacob Doney (Assiniboine) is a student at Aaniiih Nakoda College majoring in business.

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