For a handful of kids, bowling is the sport of choice. • They participate in local youth leagues on weekends with visions of pro tournaments in their heads, much like a Little Leaguer would cherish the opportunity to play with their favorite major leaguer. • At the annual PBA Pro-Am at Spring Hill Lanes, it's a chance to touch their dream.
The pros who take the time to participate are well aware of the potential influence they have on young bowlers. While the event is open to all ages, pros say there is something special about working with youngsters.
"Since there is a little money involved, sometimes the older bowlers can put a lot of pressure on themselves and us to bowl well (in the Pro-Am)," PBA regular Doug Becker said. "You can tell that you make a big impression on the kids though."
Becker, a Clermont native and an eight-time PBA regional title-winner, makes an effort to get to the host bowling center early for the Pro-Am almost every week. Becker walked through Spring Hill Lanes with a glowing smile on his face on Friday morning.
The first shift of the Pro-Am schedule immediately follows a two-hour practice for the main tournament entrants. While this is partly a time for the bowlers to hone their strategy for the weekend, this exhibition is open to the public, and the competitors are nearly overwhelmed with photo and autograph requests. For some, this can prove bothersome, but Becker sees it in a different way.
"The whole experience of these weekends is for the love of the game," Becker said. "These people come in here for a treat, and if I can be one of the bowlers who gives that to them, it's always fun."
Because of the economy and the fact that the PBA World Series of Bowling takes place the same weekend as the Spring Hill Open, the number of big-name tour veterans who have participated over the past couple of years has dwindled. However, there are still names such as former event champions Jason Hurd and two-time Spring Hill Open champion Tom Daugherty.
Daugherty, a Wesley Chapel resident, is another competitor who thrives on the opportunity to work with the kids. He has garnered a bit of a celebrity status after winning the Open in 2006 and 2008.
"This is my favorite stop on tour," Daugherty said. "The fans are great, and it's always a thrill doing stuff for the kids."
There were two youth divisions in the tournament, separated by incoming averages. The lower-average, or B Division, was won by Brandon Cruz (1,540). The higher-average, or A Division, was won by former Springstead High football player Mike Greco (1,568). Greco, 19, was among the oldest of the youth league participants to compete.
A perfect example of what this kind of tournament means to kids is Dalton Dokoupil, 16, who finished sixth in the A Division. After tossing a perfect game this season in league play, Dokoupil still gets a big thrill from competing on the same lanes as some of the best in bowling.
"To be on the same stage as some guys who have been on TV, or will be on TV, it's a blast," Dokoupil said. "I dream to be on that stage someday."
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