By Jenny Neyman
Tasha Waterbury hefted her ball Saturday at AlaskaLanes in Kenai and paused for a moment, eyeing the lane in front of her over the shiny, spherical bulk in her hands.
The Soldotna High School junior was a brief moment of motionlessness in the sea of activity around her: waves of bowlers shuffling back and forth from ball returns to lanes, launching their shots in a whirl of limbs and slide of shoes, pins ricocheting into each other, parents retrieving the youngest competitors from whatever diversion caught their attention and depositing them back in their seats to await their turn to bowl.
When Tasha moved it was in one fluid motion, her feet gliding up to the line, arm swinging back then down, ball transferring from fingers to floor without any arc or bounce, just a solid thud of impact giving way to the almost electric-sounding hum of the ball in its near-frictionless slide down the lane toward a crash landing at the end.
It’s taken Tasha nine years to get to that point. She’s been doing youth league bowling since she was in second grade. Her progress was represented in the difference between her lane and the next one over, where 6-year-old Ginni Orth lugged her ball up to the line and chunked it down with all the bend and flex of Frankenstein.
Had she not been tromping forward at the time, it’s questionable what direction the ball would have gone in. As it was, it loped into the gutter, at which point Ginni pirouetted around and skipped back to her friends.
Everybody’s got to start somewhere. With the Peninsula Strikers youth bowling league, the idea is to start a lifelong love of bowling.
“Bowling is one of those things, usually if you do it when you’re young, you do it for the rest of your life,” said Kathy Waterbury, an organizer of youth league bowling on the central Kenai Peninsula.
Waterbury had Tasha start bowling when she was 7.
“It started out to be something to do on a Saturday morning, something fun to get them involved. And it has turned into a passion,” Waterbury said.
Tasha remembers bowling for the first time, and her mom asking if she liked it.
“I thought it was just for the day. I enjoyed it and kept on doing it,” she said.
An interest in basketball and soccer came and went, since Tasha doesn’t like team sports, she said. Now bowling is her sport, and could get her thousands of dollars in scholarships.
“It’s fun and it can be relaxing if you’re stressed,” she said.
“It’s nice for these kids who may not necessarily be able to or want to participate in the footballs or basketballs,” Waterbury said. “It’s nice for them to have a sport they can call their own. Bowling gives them something to do and keeps them off the streets.”
The Peninsula Strikers is a youth league for ages 4 to 21 that draws 40 to 50 bowlers each year, Waterbury said. They bowl Saturdays at AlaskaLanes from fall to spring. Bowlers compete against each other to accumulate points, and the winners go on to bowl in a state tournament.
“Last year we did very well,” Waterbury said. “There’s some really good bowlers here in this league. When you think you’re competing against Anchorage, which is such a bigger pool of bowlers, but we held our own, which is awesome.”
Scholarship money is available at the local and state tournament level. Anyone is welcome to join the league, whether they’ve bowled for years or never set foot on a lane before.
“I think it starts out as a fun thing for them to do to have a sport activity, something to go to,” Waterbury said. “They get into it because they want to have fun and it just kind of becomes a part of their lives. They then can move on, participate in tournaments, there’s scholarship money available — it kind of grows on them.”
The local high school club bowling program started three years ago, after the Waterbury family moved back to the area from Washington, where Tasha participated in high school bowling.
Waterbury said she wanted to start a high school league here so Tasha and other kids with the same interest had more opportunities to bowl. They practice Wednesdays and Fridays, and many also participate in the youth league. There’s also a youth-adult bowling league in the area.
The high school league has seven members and is acknowledged by the schools, with SoHi even featuring their bowlers in its yearbook last year, Waterbury said. But it isn’t a school district-sponsored sport. Waterbury hopes to eventually grow the program to that point. For now, though, it’s more about fun.
“I want the kids to enjoy a sport, and it’s all about the kids — that’s how I look at it,” Waterbury said.
Dollie Nicholson signed up her son, John, for Peninsula Strikers in September for just that reason. On Saturday, the 8-year-old showed he was getting the hang of things.
“He’s getting better,” Nicholson said. “He just tends to curve.”
John’s shots veered left, but sometimes not until after the ball made it to the pins.
“It’s hard to throw them and get them in the lane,” he said.
His aim was improving, as was his bowling vocabulary.
“It’s hard to get the balls into the gutter — well, not the gutter, but the score place,” he said.
His enthusiasm was plenty developed. After just over a month of bowling, the sport already ranked pretty high in his world view.
“It’s more fun than playing video games and watching TV and shooting stuff at my brother,” he said.
Anyone interested in joining the Peninsula Strikers can contact Waterbury at 262-7449 or 398-8813.
“All they have to do is give me a call. They can start that day,” she said. “We make it as easy as we can because we want the kids to bowl.”