First Jason Mahr, a Hall-of-Famer, came out of the Hernando County youth bowling program. Then the county saw players such as Chris Polizzi, Brandon Curley and Shay Weeks also emerge as area elite. The next generation of bowling prodigies is already upon us. Leading that class is 9-year-old Jared Lee.
Jared, a Brooksville resident, fell in love with the game two years ago while attending a friend's birthday party at Spring Hill Lanes. After that, he begged his parents to sign him up for the youth leagues there. Now in only his second season, he holds the current high average in the Majors Division at 154.
"Right after he started bowling, Kevin (Williams) and Bob Miller came up to us and were telling us how advanced he was for his age," Steven Lee, Jared's father, said.
He leads a team of four competitors that has already rolled a combined 711 scratch series. For a group of young bowlers, that number is astounding. By comparison, the highest scratch series in the Majors Division nationally in 2007-08 was a 697. Jared's squad, which includes Ricky Merolla, Ryan Kyle and Ryan Stellato, is primed to crush that number.
The sport became so serious to Jared, a highly-advanced student at Explorer K-8, that his father built him a practice bowling lane in the back yard. Jared's parents believe the benefit of having this outdoor lane allows him to roll an extra 60 games per week. This practice has Jared lined up to move up to the Spring Hill Youth Elite League next season, where he'd likely be the league's youngest member.
While he receives the usual help from stellar coaches such as Miller and Clint Bullock at Spring Hill every Saturday, Jared also has the benefit of working with his father, a Minnesota State Junior Bowling Champion in 1978-79, and Curley, who spends time with Jared after school to fine tune his game.
"Jared really looks up to Brandon (Curley)," Lori Lee, Jared's mother, said. "He sees him almost like a big brother, and it influences him hugely."
These resources and his already eye-popping learning curve have young Jared shooting for the stars when it comes to his goals. The U.S. Bowling Congress sanctioned-record for the youngest person ever to roll a perfect game is by Chaz Dennis (10 years, 2 months and 27 days) on March 11, 2006 in Columbus, Ohio.
Jared, born Jan. 29, 1999, wants to break that mark and still has almost five months to accomplish the feat. While his highest-ever series is 570, just scored on Oct. 18, Jared rolled his highest scratch game (235) in his first competitive campaign last season. He threw nine strikes in that game.
Most kids around Jared's age view bowling as a fun hobby to do on weekends, but the sport has taken on a whole different meaning to this young man. He has already visited Kegel Training Center in Lake Wales twice. Kegel employs some of the most elite coaches in the country, including PBA champion Del Warren and Senior PBA Hall-of-Famer Bill Zuben. Jared speaks highly of what he learned there.
"I learned so much about my approach, my ball swing and oil patterns there," Jared said. "It helped me to focus a lot."
With the 75th Florida State Bowling Championships coming to Hernando County this spring, Jared is excited at the prospect of competing in the tournament. He believes that because Spring Hill and Mariner Lanes are hosting the event, this will give local youth bowlers a scoring advantage.
Whether talking about the next couple of months or the long-term goals for Jared on the lanes, the one thing most agree on is that his future is bright. If he continues to focus and practice, Jared Lee could surpass all of the other names to emerge out of the local youth bowling scene before him.
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