By DAVID WALSH
For The Herald-Dispatch
HUNTINGTON - The preparation is over. It's now time for seven bowlers from the Strike Zone Bowling Center youth program to test their skills against the top juniors in the nation.
That chance comes at the 2019 Junior Gold Championships scheduled July 13-20 in Detroit. Divisions are U12, U15, U17 and U20 for boys and girls. Eight centers in the Detroit area are needed to handle the more than 4,000 bowlers showing up for the premier event for United States Bowling Congress youth members.
Huntington has five entries in U15. Allie Miles is in girls and Casey Lusk, Jamison Lauder, Ben Fischer and Sean Tabor are in boys. In U17, Mark Tabor is the one entry in boys and Kennedy Shoults in girls.
Fischer, who will be a freshman at Huntington High this fall, is making his second trip to nationals. The first came two years ago in Cleveland.
"I didn't do spectacular," Fischer said after a practice session at Strike Zone. "I understand things better now. I know what I'm doing. I've been in that atmosphere. I'm there to bowl. That's all."
Opening ceremonies are July 14 at Eastern Michigan University's Convocation Center in Ypsilanti. One highlight is the walk-in where competitors from each state are introduced. There are other activities as well.
The juniors will have practice sessions July 13-14 at their designated centers. They will bowl on fresh tournament oil patterns. Competition starts July 15 and ends July 20 with the finals in the eight divisions. CBS Sports Network will tape the finals and air them at a later date.
"There's a lot of talent there. We've got some talent," said Kevin Malone, Strike Zone's junior coach. "They're going to get nervous. They're human. The goal is to overcome that and enjoy the experience."
Miles, 14, is making her first trip to nationals. She'll be a freshman in the fall at Cabell Midland High School. She also competes in track, volleyball and softball, but finds time to make it to the lanes.
"A little nervous? Yes," Miles admitted. "I need to work harder. Find my spot, roll the ball correctly and convert spares."
Miles said it's a challenge to compete on different conditions each practice session. At one session, bowlers dealt with a long oil pattern (47 feet), then went short oil (37 feet).
"You need to adjust quickly," Miles said. "I'm getting better at it."
Miles said having Malone watching and working (he does the equipment at Strike Zone) is a plus.
"He knows the game," Miles said. "He's a big help. He has a calming effect on us. He knows what we need for certain patterns."
Fischer, 14, qualified for nationals at an event in Tennessee. The other six advanced in West Virginia events.
"Get used to the patterns and equipment to use," Fischer said. "I have to improve in all aspects of the game."
Malone said he enjoys working with the future of the sport.
"I try to give them some direction," said Malone, who is one of the area's top bowlers as well. "Up there, I'll watch them and the ball reactions of other bowlers. Might pick up something. You've got to know quickly what you see. My belief is if you don't work hard, you give up easily. These kids have put in the time."
Two of the former winners in boys now compete on the PBA Tour. They are Sean Rash and Marshall Kent. Former three-time girls youth champion Shannon Pluhowsky competes on the PWBA Tour.
Most recently, a former boys winner made quite a showing in one of bowling's four majors. Solomon Salama, who won the U15 division in 2017 in Cleveland, actually led the qualifying in the 2019 USBC Masters in Las Vegas. The twohanded lefthander had a 3,492 total for 15 games to top the starting field of 450.
"Things like that can happen," Malone said.
Trips such as this mean expenses. Fundraisers have been held to help the junior with travel expenses. If interested in making a donation, send it to Cyndy Malone's PayPal account at Tutubopper2002@yahoo.com. Or contact Sara Miles 304-633-2371, Malone 304-646-9700 or Mike Prater 304-638-2133.