Dalton Dokoupil is vying for the title of top youth bowler at Spring Hill Lanes, and with his first perfect game last month, he finds himself on a short list of bowlers. At Mariner Lanes, 14-year-old Anthony Caso is shining brightly with numerous high scores. With top competitors from the past, such as Chris Polizzi and Brandon Curley, moving on to the adult leagues this season, there's been a void of high scoring at Spring Hill Lanes.
Dalton, 16, has begun to fill that void. On Jan. 24 in the Youth Elite League, he tossed a 300 in the final game of what ended up being a 694 series.
"I felt like there was a weight taken off my shoulders," Dalton said. "Honestly, I noticed everyone stopping to watch, so I took my time and made sure I went through my same routine and made myself stay steady."
There weren't any signs a perfect game was coming, either. He started the series well enough with a 214 opening game, but after a second-game 180, it seemed like another average series for the budding star. After that, something clicked. Dalton found his groove in the oil pattern and began to drill strikes.
"When he's in the middle of a game like that, you get very superstitious," Dalton's mother, Darlene Dokoupil, said. "Around the seventh or eighth frame, I won't move again."
This wasn't the only time this season Dalton has shown signs of promise. In the Youth/Adult League on Sunday nights, he is averaging a 206, which is 12 pins higher than any of his previous full-season averages. Recently, he shot a 751 series in that league with games of 258, 210 and 258.
The Nature Coast sophomore has been competing on the lanes for almost nine years. In 2000, he was introduced to the sport in the Junior Extravaganza League at Spring Hill. He competed in there for six years, raising his average from the sub-100s to the mid-140s.
In the beginning, his mother encouraged both Dalton and his sister, Caroline, to get into the league. The siblings fell in love with the sport, and Darlene fell in love with the college scholarship opportunities. Since then, the two began to take bowling very seriously.
Caroline, now an 18-year-old Nature Coast graduate, was a member of the state-placing Nature Coast girls bowling team last year. Dalton, then a freshman, was the ninth-man on the eight-man Sharks' team that ended up winning the state championship.
After some turmoil, the school no longer has a bowling program, but Dalton continues to use his skills on the lanes to garner more scholarship money. There are monthly UCF scholarship tournaments at Boardwalk Bowl in Orlando he and his friends attend regularly.
In his most recent tournament, the Hernando County Youth Championships at Spring Hill this past weekend, Dalton tossed a 279 game in the singles and doubles events. His squad finished fifth in the county the previous weekend in the team event. The team was made up of Dalton, Jeff Morgan, Cody Malone and Josh Malone.
It's all coming together for Dalton at the right time. Not only are high scores accruing, but the opportunities to prepare for college and beyond are also piling up.
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