Al Chamberlain: king of lanes


Al Chamberlain had been here before, just a week earlier in fact.

Standing on the wooden approach at Hi-Tor Lanes, staring down at a rack of bowling pins 60 feet away from him, Chamberlain prepared to throw his ball in the hopes that it would leave nothing but a view of the black backdrop at the end of the lane after the pins had toppled over.

And yet, something about this time was different.

There was no crowd, there were no varsity games at stake, and, in essence, no pressure. After rolling two 300 games in less than a week, bowling in the Jeanne Scherer Memorial Scholarship league seems like merely a formality.

“I didn’t believe it, honestly, at first — I had to check,” said Chamberlain, a senior at Suffern High School. “It’s almost like a dream.”

Chamberlain, who had already bowled a 300 during a Junior Bowlers Tour event in September, struck perfection on Jan. 24, then again on Jan. 30.

Where most bowlers get the overwhelming feeling of nervousness and overanalyzing, Chamberlain savored the moment on his first of two memorable perfectos; saying he “just wanted to have fun with it” because “you never know if you’re going to be there again.”

For some bowlers, that “again” moment never comes.

It could be because of a lack of skill. After all, not every bowler can consistently hit the pocket — the right side of the head pin for righties, such as Chamberlain.

It could be because of a lack of luck. After all, it only takes one pin out of the rack to be off just slightly to dramatically alter the result of a shot. At the same token, the slightest difference in speed, release or accuracy can also dramatically affect the outcome of the frame.

For Chamberlain, the moment did come again.

“It felt like something was going to happen,” said Chamberlain, last year’s Journal News Rockland boys bowler of the year, of his most recent perfect game. “It’s almost like lightning striking twice.”

Or “striking” three times, depending on how you look at it.

As high school teammates and competitors watched on, some possibly witnessing their first-ever perfect game, Chamberlain had the stage to himself in the final frame — a courtesy that has been lost over the years in many adult leagues.

Ten in a row. Eleven in a row. Twelve in a row.

Chamberlain had now not only bowled three perfect games in the same season, but had now thrown two within a week — an incredible feat that is seemingly unheard of for bowlers, especially junior bowlers.

“I was just focusing on making good shots and picking up the spares that I leave,” he said of his thoughts entering the match. “Probably about halfway through the second game, I started to get that feeling that it might happen again, but you have to kind of block that out and just roll with it.”

While perfect games are becoming more common in time, as ball technology continues to advance, a 300 game is still a very rare feat.

There were 57,635 recorded perfectos sanctioned by the United States Bowling Congress last year alone, according to Terry Bigham of USBC Communications, but that accounts for less than one percent of the 1.8 million sanctioned bowlers with the USBC during the 2012-13 season.

Still, two in a season — two in a matter of months, rather — is impressive enough.

Then again, Chamberlain is not your prototypical 17-year-old bowler.

For one, at 6-foot-3 and nearly 250 pounds, he looks more like a football player. But even watching him, he is not like most bowlers his age; he is poised, patient, relaxed.

While most young bowlers tend to suffer from inconsistencies brought on by rushing their shots or getting too caught up in the moment, Chamberlain is meticulous.

He grabs his ball, engulfs it in his large hands — which are almost an inch longer than the average bowler, helping to increase his revolution rate — and goes through the motions.

He grabs his rosin bag, squeezes it for a better grip in his ball, and then waits for his peripheral vision to be clear. Then, only then, he makes his shot.

“The approach is a big deal; you have to make sure you go up the same way all the time,” he said. “Try not to get fast with your feet, because that’s what throws everything else off.”

While some bowlers say that 300 games don’t carry as much weight as they used to, many still recognize the accomplishment for what it is — the exact combination of skill and luck, meshed together to form perfection.

Few know that better than Chamerlain’s uncle, Stan Dobrinski Jr., a former Rockland County junior bowler of the year, adult rookie of the year and male bowler of the year.

“I think it’s still quite an achievement,” said Dobrinski, who has 16 perfect games and more than six 800 series to his credit. “You still have to make the shots, and the pressure — from your first (strike) to your second one … it seems like he’s getting more comfortable with it and he’s making better shots as the time goes on.”

Dobrinski also bowled his first 300 at the age of 17, but his nephew did it a few months sooner. Like many bowlers, Dobrinski understands that there are hot streaks and cold streaks in the sport.

“When things are going good, it comes kind of easy; it’s not really work,” said Dobrinski, who once bowled back-to-back 300 games during the 1988 Empire State Games at now-defunct Pearl River Lanes. “But when you’re bowling bad, it’s work.”

Through good times and bad, Chamberlain puts in the work. In addition to bowling for the Mounties’ varsity team and his Saturday morning league at Hi-Tor, Chamberlain also bowls in a Sunday league and regularly participates in JBT events on weekends, after his leagues.

All the practice has prepared Chamberlain for anything. At 17 years old, he’s learned that — puns aside — lightning can ‘strike’ at any moment.

Twitter: @Zacchio_LoHud

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