By Joseph Robertia
Standing in front of crowd can be embarrassing for teenagers. Making your way to the front of a room full of your peers with “Disco Fever” blaring, while wearing a neon pink Velour leisure suit with a leopard-pattern lapel, and donning a giant floppy pimp hat, well, that would be awkward for anyone, regardless of age.
Mason Yamada handled this exact situation with poise Saturday at Alaskalanes Family Bowling Center in Kenai, where he was recognized for his pin-pounding prowess during a 1970s-themed night of bowling to raise money for him and several other young bowlers.
“Bowling is my sport. It’s what I do and I love it,” he said.
Yamada, one of eight middle- and high-school-aged youths involved in the Kenai Peninsula Scholastic League of bowlers, recently pitched a perfect 300 game — a tough task for any bowler. In addition to the bragging rights from his accomplishment, he also gained some green to one day be used for college tuition.
“The way it works is local businesses, adult bowlers and leagues support the kids, putting money into scholarship funds. This is our sixth year, but over the last five years we’ve given out between $15,000 and $20,000 in scholarship money,” said event organizer Kathy Waterbury.
On top of that, Waterbury said that Marty Askin of Hilcorp Energy Company, one of the sponsors of the scholastic league,
had said he would give an additional $500 to anyone who bowled a perfect game, which Mason did Dec. 27.
Yamada was recognized for his accomplishment Saturday and received his additional funds during the ’70s-themed bowling event. Even with the huge Afro wigs and polyester attire, bowlers were still serious about their games.
“The kids pick the theme each year and they wanted ’70s this time, but in the past we’ve had an ’80s night, Western night, and one year everyone dressed up like superheroes,” Waterbury said.
With teams paying $400 to enter, a lot of money was raised for scholarships. And Waterbury said that the themed nights, like the scholastic league itself, are also designed to teach the kids life lessons.
“A lot of kids get involved with high school sports, but not all of them, so we feel, ‘Why not teach them bowling?’ It’s a lot of fun and the scholastic league is more of a learning league, rather than a competitive league,” Waterbury said. “They also learn a lot of responsibility. To do the year-end tournament they have to attend 75 percent of the practices and match plays, and they have to set up, help during, and clean up after events like this themed bowling night.”
“I’m very appreciative of the additional $500,” Yamada said. “I had tried to bowl a 300 for years, but 207 was my average before that, and I was sick that day and hadn’t slept the night before, so it was a total surprise.”
Despite feeling under the weather, Yamada still was able to somehow pull it together every time he stepped into the lane.
“It was just me doing my thing, and every time I threw the ball it was there. It was weird,” he said. “And, even weirder, since then I’ve bowled a 298 and another 300. I hope to just keep getting better. I watch people on TV and I dream of collegiate bowling, and with the scholarship money continuing to come in, I feel like I’m on my way.”
The other kids in the league shared similar sentiments. Gavin Petterson said that, while he’s only in eighth grade, he’s already thinking about college and hoping to bowl his way into a few bucks by the time he graduates.
“My whole family bowls, so it’s been pretty fun for me. My mom and dad can get pretty competitive,” he said.
Petterson said that he’d like to see more kids get involved with the league, but he understands how it’s not for everyone.
“Some kids just aren’t into all the practice,” he said.
Tori Askin said that practicing with the other scholastic bowlers is actually one of the things she likes best about being involved in the program.
“I have a lot of stress at school and I’m in band, which also takes a lot of practice and reading music,” she said. “So, for me, the bowling is fun. I can come and just focus on my form and it reduces my stress.”
Morgan Bilyeu said that she enjoys the bowling so much she wishes it was offered as a high school sport.
“It would be fun to play the other schools, but also, by it not being a school sport, every time I have a match in Anchorage I end up missing a couple of days of school. But I like the tournaments the best because that’s when we get to meet and bowl against kids from all over the state,” she said.
At the end of the year, the students will have a final tournament where they’ll bowl against each other to determine how the funds raised through the year will be dispersed to each of them. Funds are set on a tier system. The higher a youth’s score in bowling, the more funds they receive. Also, since some of the kids bowl in the league year after year, they can parlay their scholarship winnings until graduation.
“I have almost $10,000 in my scholarship at this point,” Yamada said. “That would have been tough to do without bowling.”