As Mary Jo Short talks about her bowling accomplishments, there is one word that probably best describes her career: persistence.
Short, 49, is a rarity in Hernando County. Born in Florida and raised in Brooksville, she graduated from Hernando High School and has spent her entire 34-year bowling career competing in the local centers.
Before tossing a perfect game late last month, she wasn't aware of how elite status she was about to achieve. All she knew was that Carlos Martins, one of the co-owners at Spring Hill Lanes, would always joke that he expected her to become the first woman to shoot a 300 at the center.
Martins' jokes proved prophetic. Of the five perfect games that have been shot by women in Hernando County, Short became the first to accomplish the feat at Spring Hill.
"I'd always tell him that I'd (bowl the first female 300) here for him," she said. "I came close before, but I had no clue if someone else had done it when I finally did."
Short had a 299 game under her belt, tossing the U.S. Bowling Congress honor score at Spring Hill in the Joni Classic League. She is now the president of that league, and it is where she shot her historic game this time as well.
There is no way she would have predicted such success at the start of the night. Short shot only a 675 series that evening. Her opening effort was a mere 162, and her average was 208.
After practice, she made a ball switch, needing something more appropriate for the dry lanes.
"The ball was really hopping in practice," Short said. "I changed balls to something less reactive, and it didn't go well at first."
Things started to click in the second game when she shot a 213. She had visions of getting back around her average for the night and knew she needed a solid effort to finish the series. She had no thoughts of a perfect game. But when you've been on the lanes as long as Short, you learn to expect the unexpected.
She returned home that night and left a voice mail for her daughter, Jackie Redford. Even with all the praise and recognition she received from her peers at Spring Hill, Short's first thoughts were of Jackie, with whom she had competed for years.
Jackie, a 200-plus average bowler herself, shot a perfect game in 2008 at the Florida Women's Championships in Daytona Beach. At the time, there was some good-natured ribbing that went along with the accomplishment since her mother had yet to do it.
"I left the message, and she called me back later on," Short said. "The first thing she said after the shock was, 'Now you're ahead again.'"
Short joins a short list in Hernando. The first member of the female 300 club, Pat Brennan, was among those who congratulated her.
"It's the hardest thing to do because we don't have the power some of the men do," Brennan said. "It was only a matter of time for Mary (Jo) because she has so much consistency."
Short's longtime involvement in bowling has translated into an increasing number of accomplishments. A former coach at Pin Chasers in Zephyrhills, she is now considering filling the open seat on the Hernando County Bowling Association board of directors.
With her dedication and consistency, she continues to improve, even after over three decades competing in the sport. Her 203 average in the Joni Classic League last season was the highest of her career. With this latest feather in her cap, she shows no signs of slowing down.
After 34 years of persistence, she knows no other way.