Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Bowling comes out of the gutter and into the light as Ottawa hosts youth nationals

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Chloe Gordon. Photo: Derek Mellon

By Emma Zhao

The hollers and chants from an excited audience echoed throughout the Orleans Bowling Centre last week as bowlers from across Canada rolled into the nation’s capital for the 2024 Youth Bowl Canada Five-Pin National Championships from May 6-8.

Two bowlers from the Orleans alley were the lone Ottawa representatives on the Southern Ontario team. Fia Bankey-Mohamdee and Chloe Gordon narrowly missed a podium performance in the Junior Girls’ Doubles event, but the pair treasured the opportunity to compete in the nationals just the same.

“It was a huge opportunity, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years,” indicated Gordon, who only became teammates with Bankey-Mohamdee last year.

Gordon comes from a bowling family. Both her brother and mother have competed in the national championships before. The 14-year-old also met her coach, Megan Verbeek, because she used to compete with her mom. In 2017, Verbeek won the Senior Girls’ national five-pin title.

It’s the tight-knit community that first attracted Gordon to the sport.

“I honestly just love it because of the family and my friends and everything,” she explained. “It is such a small community, and you learn to know everyone and they become your second family.”

Thirteen-year-old Bankey-Mohamdee found that bowling has introduced her to a lot of incredible players.

Fia Bankey-Mohamdee practicing after a match at the Orleans Bowling Centre. Photo: Derek Mellon

“Seeing how we’re all from different provinces, but we all like this sport, and we’re all good at this sport” was a major highlight from taking part in nationals, she said. “It’s kind of surreal that we made it nationals, and it was really humbling for me.”

The tournament is no walk in the park, Verbeek noted. Every bowler competed in 21 matches over three days in the triple-round robin format.

Or 22 matches in the case of Bankey-Mohamdee and Gordon. The Orleans team started with four wins in their first five matches before losing six in a row and then clawing their way back into medal contention with victories in their next five.

They wound up tied with B.C. for third place with 12 wins apiece, but lost a tiebreaker for the bronze medal 455-376.

“It takes a lot of mental strength to be able to go through a competition such as what the girls just went through,” Verbeek underlined. “It is very mentally draining, to stay focused, to stay smooth, to stay calm.”

(From left) Chloe Gordon, Fia Bankey-Mohamdee and Megan Verbeek of the Orleans Bowling Centre. Photo: Derek Mellon

Five-pin bowling is uniquely Canadian. Thomas Ryan opened the country’s first 10-pin bowling alley in Toronto in 1905, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. However, customers complained about how heavy the 16-pound bowling ball was and how long the game took to finish. After experimenting with other bowling games, he settled on a five-pin model, which is now widely used in Canadian bowling alleys today.

“It’s niche because unlike 10-pin, where … you roll the ball down the lane, if it stays on the lane, you’re more than likely going to get more than one pin at a time, whereas in five-pin, you can only take one pin at a time,” Verbeek outlined. “[Bowling requires] an extreme sense of accuracy and self-control. In a wide range of other sports, the margin of error tends to be a little bit larger … you are allowed to make mistakes.”

Bowling is also a very accessible sport, Verbeek signalled. Since the five-pin model was created to make bowling easier, the sport can be widely played by all ages, genders and bodies.

Chloe Gordon practicing after a match at the Orleans Bowling Centre. Photo: Derek Mellon

While bowling is often a pastime or a fun activity with friends for most, competitive bowling requires a lot of thought and strategy – something the Orleans trio often practiced. Bowling also requires training that helps to develop a different set of skills. For example, Verbeek said that meditation is really helpful for developing focus and presence.

Gordon said she has a mental thought process that prepares her for every bowl.

“I set up and the first thing I think about is I remember to take my steps, make sure my arm goes out and stays slow,” detailed Gordon, who bowled a top game score of 269 at the nationals. “After that, I listen to the sound behind me.”

She found that the cheers and bustle at competitions helped to ground her in the present.

For Bankey-Mohamdee, she’s learning to accept mistakes in bowling and that acknowledging your personal strengths and weaknesses are important to the team’s overall success.

“When you’re really invested in something, and when you know you have a partner and you know you’re not supposed to be that person that lets them down, you need to also remember that it’s not that deep sometimes,” said Bankey-Mohamdee, whose best score was a 252. “So just creating some of those boundaries with myself will help.”

Verbeek said that she was in awe of the way the girls conducted themselves during the championships.

(From left) Fia Bankey-Mohamdee, coach Megan Verbeek and Chloe Gordon of the Orleans Bowling Centre. Photo: Derek Mellon

“This was one of the most enjoyable national events that I’ve ever had, and I wasn’t even bowling,” she smiled. “I’m just so proud of the girls, every single time they displayed such an enormous amount of perseverance and determination.”

Ultimately, bowling for Verbeek can be an incredibly uplifting sport. With the right coach, she said that lessons learned in bowling can be taken out of the alley and applied to life. The experiences with her own coach are what encouraged her to take the same passion she had for bowling and put it towards coaching.

“Something that is very prevalent in bowling and life is confidence, and not everybody is born with a huge well of self-esteem,” she noted. “I just hope that I was able to provide that … to the girls and that they take their determination their confidence, their perseverance far into their life because it will really help them.”

The Orleans Bowling Centre co-hosted the event with Salle de quilles Anik in Gatineau. Bowlers from Gatineau filled every one of the Quebec team entries across Bantam, Junior and Senior Boys’ and Girls’ Singles and Doubles competition.

William Chénier and Brandon Charron from Salle de quilles Paris were the Junior Boys’ Doubles champions, while Paris clubmates Mylik Martin and William Villeneuve took the Bantam Boys’ Doubles crown, and Félix Cousineau from Salon de quilles Gréber was the bronze medallist in the Bantam Boys’ Singles event.

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