When I was a kid UJ and I bowled in a youth league at Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a 16-team league of 12 and 13-year-old boys. Our team was called the Fireballs, which we thought was a pretty cool name. It was a more innocent time then, and we were oblivious to the connotations that more mature people might assign to our team’s moniker.
It was a handicap league that bowled on Saturday mornings during the school year. Every week you bowled a three-game set against another team and earned points for each team victory in each game. It was fun, but we were, at bottom, competitive adolescent boys who really wanted to win. We would follow our team in the standings and watch our individual handicaps move up and down based on each week’s performance.
To our mild surprise, our team was pretty good. We weren’t the best team by a long shot, but we soon were among the top five teams in the league and we stayed there as the season wore on. Winning a trophy at the end of the season became a realistic possibility. In those days, trophies weren’t simply handed out to every participant. You had to earn them, and in our league only the top three teams got one. Ending up in at least third place became our goal.
Finally, we got to the match that would decide whether we would get that coveted trophy. I felt pressure like I’d never felt it before — not in a spelling bee, not in a school play, not messing around playing baseball in our neighborhood. A real trophy was on the line! And bowlers are up there all by themselves, with no referees or teammates to blame. I remember standing in the approach area, hoping desperately that I wouldn’t throw a gutter ball, miss an easy spare, or trip and do a humiliating face plant. We all felt that pressure, yet we were somehow able to get up there, win the match, and finish in third place.
It made us feel good about ourselves, and when we received our trophies — small pedestals less than a foot high, with a gold bowler on top and a third-place plaque at the bottom — it was sweet. I took it home and put it in a prominent place on the dresser in the room UJ and I shared.