In summer 2016, Luke Henderson was bowling a standard game when something new happened — he was moving toward the final frames and still bowling strikes.
At the time, the University of Idaho alumnus averaged a score of 215 per game, and it wasn’t unusual for him to hit six or seven strikes in a row. When he finished the ninth frame with a strike, however, he knew he wasn’t playing a standard game anymore.
“After you finish the ninth frame, you only have the tenth left and you have to get three strikes in a row,” Henderson said. “That’s the nerve-wracking part.”
By the eleventh strike, Henderson’s knees were shaking. When he released his bowling ball for the final throw of the game, he wasn’t even sure what the ball was going to do.
Then, all ten pins toppled. For the first time, Henderson had bowled a perfect game.
“It was insane. I have no other way to explain it,” Henderson said. “I was crazy nervous — nervous and excited at the same time — and when I finally got the last strike, it was just a rush of, like, pride and emotion. I had finally done it.”
For some students, bowling is a fun recreational sport.
For others, like Henderson, it’s an art.
Henderson has bowled competitively in leagues since he was 10 years old, and has worked in bowling alleys since the age of 14.
The Nampa native said scholarships he received from the tournaments he bowled in throughout high school helped him pay for his college education.
Since UI does not have a bowling team, and Moscow doesn’t have a bowling alley, Henderson turned to honing his craft at Zeppoz, a bowling alley in Pullman.
Bowling is a fun challenge for him, he said, as the sport requires a great deal of technique and consistency.
“It’s a very repetitive sport,” Henderson said. “You have to be able to do the same things multiple times. A perfect game is 12 strikes in a row, so you have to be able to throw the same ball the same way to the same spot 12 times — there’s a little leeway, but it’s mostly a lot of repetition.”
Henderson said despite the importance of repetition and consistency in the sport, bowlers must also learn to adjust to environmental changes.
Bowling lanes are oiled before tournaments to provide consistent playing surfaces for all competitors. Henderson said as games progress, the pattern of the oil on the lane changes — something competitors have to account for.
“The more you bowl, the oil gets pushed around and moved so you have to learn how to adjust for that,” Henderson said. “Certain balls are made to hook more or hook less or to go straight or react differently depending on different oil patterns on the lane.”
In the same way there are several different types of bowling balls, Henderson said there are different types of bowlers, such as crankers, who pull up on the ball upon releasing it, which increases its spin; strokers, who have slower, more forward rolls; and mid-rangers, whose technique is somewhere in between.
Chance Mair, a member of the Washington State University Bowling Team, said the mentality with which a bowler approaches a tournament is also an important aspect of the sport.
“The mental game is one of the biggest parts,” Mair said. “If you can keep yourself calm and collected, then you’ll probably do good. Thinking too much is one of the big factors as to why I don’t do good sometimes.”
When Mair bowls a bad frame, he said he likes to take a moment to clear his head, drink some water, and think about what the oil is doing on the lane or how he’s moving his body.
The WSU junior first began bowling at the age of five, and has enjoyed the sport ever since. He said one of the best games he ever bowled was during his senior year of high school, when he was competing against the best bowler in his league. Mair and one of his teammates arrived to their match late and flustered, as they had originally gone to the wrong bowling alley.
“The match was only a frame and a half in, so we were both able to join in,” Mair said. “At that point, I had no practice, I was in a bit of a flush to catch up, and I got 10 strikes in a row — 289. I didn’t expect to do that.”
Henderson said keeping a clear head and not overthinking is so important during a game there is an unspoken rule among competitors about not psyching each other out.
“If someone is on run for a 300, you’re not supposed to talk to them about anything related to bowling,” Henderson said. “You can talk about what’s going on in your life or whatever, but if someone is like ‘Oh hey, nice eight strikes in a row,’ it’s like ‘No, no, you don’t bring that up.’”
Additionally, Henderson said every bowler has their own quirks and superstitions when it comes to bowling successfully.
Despite the challenges and stressors of bowling competitively, Mair said the sport has developed into lifelong passion. Similarly, Henderson said that while he would like to move away from working at bowling alleys, he will continue to hone his craft of competitive bowling.