Photo by Chung Chow
On an early Tuesday evening in April, an East Richmond establishment is rocking. And rolling.
A large number of mostly young adults is engaged in an activity that appears to be enjoying a revival of sorts.
It’s a league night at Lucky 9 Lanes, an all-encompassing bowling centre at Riverport Sports and Entertainment Complex. The participants, including at least a few teens, are displaying their considerable skills. Well versed in the language of the lanes, you routinely see the celebratory high-five following another “strike” or “spare.”
Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Threemoos’ by their dad Clay (well known in the Twitter-verse as Canuck Clay), Sean, 17, Jacob, 15, and Kayla, 11, are doing their level best to show that bowling is much more than just an activity to pass the time. It’s a serious sport that deserves respect.
Jacob delights in the opportunity to promote bowling.
“In school right now I’m playing some volleyball and basketball, and I used to be in track and played a bit of football,” he says. “But bowling is a sport people don’t really know. When I did a personal project for school, everyone found it interesting. But you feel stereotyped for sure.”
It is perhaps a tad ironic that bowling isn’t afforded more respect among the sports fraternity, given the roots of the game date back to Germany (Kegelspiel). Some 2,000 years ago, a game similar to bowling was introduced among Roman legionaries tossing stone objects as close as possible to other stone objects. This eventually led to bocce or outdoor bowling.
And despite the chortles, bowling is today played by 100 million people in 90 countries.
But there’s a big difference between bowling a couple of games and bowling in a league.
“We come and bowl four or five times a week,” Jacob explains. “Over two hours, we do practice shots and drills—just like in any other sport. We can play up to 15 games a day and that really puts a strain on our physical game. We’re all sweating by the end, and our muscles are pulled. There’s a lot more than just walking up and chucking a ball. And the mental game is big. You have to be thinking constantly.”
United in faith
They say the family that plays together, stays together.
Secure in their strong faith in God, Richmond’s Imoo family is very active at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. It was the result of their work as youth ministry leaders that husband-and-wife Clay and Gail would take the teens in the church group bowling a few times a year. It was always one of the highlights of the youth ministry calendar. The sport has since become a family favourite.
“Bowling runs in both our families,” explains Clay, the patriarch of the Imoo (which rhymes with Nemo as in the cartoon Finding Nemo) clan. “My mother’s side has some competitive bowlers in it; in fact my first cousin Jordan Jung co-owns the JR pro shop at Lucky 9 Lanes. Gail’s mother’s side also has some decent bowlers in it. As for our immediate family, both Gail and I bowled (recreationally) growing up. We’ve always enjoyed bowling because it’s fun, affordable and social.”
While Gail doesn’t bowl anymore—at most once or twice a year—Clay continues to bowl once a week on average and plans to join a league in the fall.
Each of the kids—Sean, Jacob and Kayla—demonstrate the skills to go far.
The family recently spent a week in Las Vegas where Sean was playing in a United States Open bowling competition.
“It was a great experience and there were a lot of good takeaways for my future tournaments,” says Sean, who has made significant progress over the last year, earning a silver medal at the 2019 Canadian Tenpin Federation championships.
“Growing up we’d go regularly to Lois Lanes but I didn’t really take it that seriously. Eventually my brother Jacob got serious, and I thought what the heck I might as well try it too.”
Playing a variety of team sports through high school, Sean has always seen himself as a bit of a natural athlete. So placing last at the Canadian Tenpin Federation championships in 2018 was a hard lesson.
“It was tough for me, but I think it also speaks a lot to the importance of the mental game and my drive to be the best,” Sean says. “I put in a lot of hours over the summer to come away with silver this year. It was great for me.”
Sean continues to strive to get better, taking advantage of a lull in the season to reset his game mentally and physically in hopes of being even more prepared for next year.
Among the siblings, Jacob started the competitive ball rolling when he joined a youth league four years ago. This year, he has been capturing his progress on video while putting together a full documentary on his “Road to 300” (a perfect game).
Clearly dedicated to the pursuit of excellence, Jacob was star struck when he had the opportunity to meet the world’s top bowler while in Las Vegas.
“Oh my goodness, I couldn’t understand what I was saying,” Jacob says of his encounter with Jason Belmonte. “There was so much anticipation in meeting him that my heart was pounding. When I got my picture with him it was so awesome. I’d been looking up to him and seeing him on TV for the last four or five years, and it was good to see what a nice guy he is. It’s cool to meet someone you look up to.”
An Australian, Belmonte, 35, plays on the Professional Bowler Association Tour in the United States and in world events. He is known for being one of the first bowlers to gain media attention for using the two-handed approach to deliver his shot. With 23 career 300 games, he has won 21 PBA titles, one of only 15 players in history with a least 20 tour wins.
After watching Belmonte bowl, Jacob has also adopted the two-handed style.
“(Belmonte) started bowling that way because he couldn’t pick up the ball, and it’s become popular with a lot of kids today,” Jacob explains. “All the kids love it because you get so much power even if you don’t have that much muscle. And it’s cool to see that ball curve from one side to another.”
New twist on an old game
At its height of popularity, bowling defined suburban America in the 1950s and 1960s as a favourite family activity. It was also a time when television was coming into its own, a medium that helped to create bowling stars.
By the 1980s, however, the widespread appeal of bowling was gone. But there remained those who refused to let the game die, and have since been steadfast in their efforts to revive interest.
The Imoos are keen to help advance the momentum.
Jacob recalls with fondness—and amusement—his early days bowling.
“I remember those long drives with our dad and being so excited, and then throwing the ball in the gutter,” he smiles. “But it was cool, and we couldn’t wait for the next time. It’s always been a fun sport and something we’ve loved to do.”
Since taking the game seriously, Jacob has become a top-notch bowler and a gold-medallist in both the Youth Bowl Canada (YBC) and Canadian Tenpin Federation (CTF). His next goal is to become a national champion in both. The YBC finals are set for early May in Montreal and the CTF championships are ºlater in the month in Edmonton.
“It’s a challenge sometimes staying serious,” admits Jacob, who sports an engaging personality. “But I really want to get a scholarship and hopefully become a pro. I really love bowling.”
Though she has only been bowling in a league since last September, Kayla is already serving notice she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her brothers readily acknowledge she may have the most potential.
“She’s a very quick learner,” Sean says proudly. “And she throws the ball very smoothly. The sky is the limit for her.”
A silver medallist in the CTF and bronze medallist in YBC, Kayla clearly looks up to her brothers and enjoys spending time with them.
Her eyes light up as she talks about a family video of her bowling at the age of two or three. And she sports a wide smile noting she’s at least once even recorded a higher score than Jacob.
“Since Jacob and Sean started bowling in league it’s been amazing for me to watch them, so (last year) I was like ‘Hey, why don’t I try it?’ As soon as I started I was getting much better at it. Winning medals was a really cool experience too because in gymnastics (which she’d competed in previously) it was a lot harder to do that.”
Kayla says seeing the pros like world champion Belmonte bowl has only strengthened her love for the sport.
“It was so cool to see how easy it was for them to get all the strikes and spares, while I’m here getting one pin at a time,” she says.
As for her short-term goals, Kayla says “maybe winning provincials, but definitely working on my mental game and targeting. Sometimes when I bowl it just goes straight—this way. So I’m working on getting the ball to go where I want it to go.”