The youth league that has produced two state champions in the last two years kicked off Friday afternoon with the sound of bowling balls hitting the floor and a round of tater tots at Pick’s Bowling Center in Bigfork.
But before the kids began bowling, league organizer Tamara Hopkins warned them not to eat the greasy tots with the same hand they bowl with.
The 2012 division three state champion, Adam Powell, 14, learned that lesson the hard way. He said picking up a ten pound bowling ball with slippery fingers is a tricky business.
It’s just one of the things he’s learned while bowling in the Bigfork league for the last five years. His goal is to make another run at state this year. Powell said one of the things he needs to work on before he can do that is slowing down his swing.
“If you rush it you don’t get the ball to go where you want it to go and you mess up your shot,” Powell said.
His best score on day one of the Billings’ state tournament was 185. Six games were played on day one. In total Powell bowled nine games along with the 56 other competitors in division three. The best combination of scores won the tournament. The tournament hosts kids in divisions one through seven, based on age and talent, with division one having the oldest, best bowlers.
Bowling is both a physical and mental game with a team of one. Powell said when he bowls it’s key for him to forget about everything and everyone around him and just focus on the game.
“Just ignore everyone else,” Powell said. “I’m only facing myself.”
Tamara’s son Dakota coached both Powell and the 2011 division three champion, Aaron Frazee, through their state tournaments and season. Tamara said he’s the best coach the Bigfork league has and he’s leaving in a month to head to the Middle East with the Air Force.
Dakota coaches many of the older kids in the bowling league. Tamara said she can coach the younger kids, but once they get to a certain point in developing their game, she can’t keep up. Her son will be hard to replace.
“That’s the hardest part of this league is finding someone who wants to coach,” Tamara said.
She took over organization of the league when it was still held at the old bowling alley on Montana 35 and Holt Drive. This year about 30 kids make up 10 teams. Most are veteran bowlers. The league runs every Friday from 4-6 p.m. for the next 20 weeks.
For $6 a week and a $15 United States Bowling Congress card purchase, kids aged 8-19 participate in the Bigfork Youth Bowling League and can head to the youth state championships in April.
Tamara said she might not be able to pull off the league without the help of her friend Angie Tull, who steps in on occasion for Tamara. Tull’s children all participate in the league and have for the last few years.
Tull said the bowling league is a great way for kids to learn mental discipline and it gets them out of the house.
“Their biggest competition is themselves,” Tull said.