SPRING HILL — With a nod of approval, the old record holder handed off his achievement to the new owner.
For 16 years, Jason Mahr reigned as the dominant force in Hernando County bowling. He was voted an inaugural member of the county's Hall of Fame in 2008, won the Professional Bowlers Association Spring Hill Open the year before and holds nearly every individual local record — now with one exception.
That's because Justin Paxton, 12, just took away the first mark Mahr ever set. On Aug. 21, Paxton, of Port Richey, tossed a perfect game at Spring Hill Lanes to become the youngest bowler to ever accomplish that feat in Hernando County.
When Mahr was 13, he started his run of exceptional play by doing the same thing.
It was Aug. 21, 1994, at Mariner Lanes in Spring Hill. He had just turned 13. Mahr used that day to catapult himself toward many other accomplishments on the lanes, including an 878 series and multiple county high-average titles. Only a couple of years ago, he started to burn out on the sport.
"I wish the best for Justin and the rest of the kids today," Mahr said. "I hope they don't lose the desire like I did and remember that at the end of the day, it's just a game."
Over the past couple of years, Mahr has taken time off from bowling, but the torch has seemingly been passed with the breaking of his initial record. Paxton threw his 300 on the first week of youth league play at Spring Hill Lanes.
"When I found out that he did it the same exact day I did, but 16 years later, that was pretty ironic," Mahr said. "It was only a matter of time until someone came along and did it, and he deserves it."
After starting with a first-game 201, Paxton tossed 12 consecutive strikes for his second-game 300. He finished with a third-game 179 for a 680 series.
There's no telling what lies ahead for Paxton, but there is no denying he has talent.
Paxton took up the sport only 2 ½ years ago after flirting with the idea of playing quarterback for many years. He took his last snap in the Pasco Police Athletic League and picked up a bowling ball.
It was a natural turn for Paxton, whose father, David, has been a mechanic at bowling centers for the past 24 years. David Paxton is currently a lane mechanic at Spring Hill Lanes. He was more than thrilled to see his son take up the pastime. He caught on quickly.
"He never needed bumpers, and he was throwing a hook within six months," the elder Paxton said. "He has a real strong wrist from playing quarterback, and I think that helps him a lot."
Last year, Justin tossed a 777 series at age 11. He has put in a lot of hard work to get to this point, and he plans on continuing to do so.
He has dreams of PBA superstardom, but he keeps grounded with college plans as well. In the past eight months, he has earned almost $700 worth of scholarship money bowling in various youth tournaments, and hopes that total will grow in years to come.
Just days ago, Paxton rolled an 800 series on the nose in practice, missing another perfect game with a ringing 10-pin in the ninth frame. He is aiming to become the youngest bowler to toss a sanctioned 800 series.
With the help of PBA instructor Jeffrey Marks, who also assists youth bowlers Darian Curtis and Anthony Caso, Paxton has improved by learning various hand releases and balance at the foul line. Given his experience level, he is improving at a fast pace.
"He's just fascinated by (bowling)," his father said. "He has a big backswing like Jason Mahr. I just brought him up here to throw some balls, and the rest is history."