By Gianmarc Manzione
Marshall Kent packed his bowling balls and hit the road last month with the same destination in mind as many other youth bowlers around the country: Indianapolis, where he would bowl the 2010 USBC Junior Gold Championships as well as the North Pointe Insurance High School Open Singles tournament later that week.
By the time he packed up once again to head back home, the 17-year-old native of Yakima, Wash. had won both tournaments, signed on with an emerging college bowling program, and racked up about $75,000 in scholarships. Oh, and he had also clinched a spot on Junior Team USA for the first time.
“It’s a dream come true,” Kent says of joining Junior Team USA. “I could not even imagine that I would make the team this soon.”
If this all sounds like a pretty good deal for one week’s work to you, you’re not the only one.
“It was an incredible week,” says Jim Kent, Marshall’s Father. “Junior Gold was $10,000, then the North Pointe was $15,000, and then the next day he signed a letter of intent with Robert Morris [of Illinois], so ultimately it ended up being about a $75,000 week for him.”
But this is no evening news story of the lucky local who strikes the jackpot with a scratch-off ticket or the pull of a slot handle. This is a story of tireless work and its just reward.
It is a story in which 4 A.M. is as good a time as any to get in a few extra games of practice.
“I had to come into my center at 4 A.M. one morning — we’re open 24 hours — and there’s Marshall throwing some practice with a friend,” says Bob Hanson, one of Marshall’s long-time coaches. “I said ‘Marshall! What are you doing?’ He said they weren’t tired so they came down for some practice games. That was about four days before Junior Gold.”
It is a story of the 160-mile drives Kent takes through the Cascades from Yakima to Tacoma just to bowl six games a month in a travel league there.
Most of all, it is a story of needing all three strikes to win Junior Gold and putting 30 in the pit as if it’s just another few shots of practice back home, of leading the North Pointe the next morning on no sleep and a stomach so ill it might have kept anyone else off the lanes.
“We didn’t get back to the hotel until about midnight because we went out with a bunch of friends from Washington after he won Junior Gold,” Jim Kent recalls. “And I think at that time it finally hit Marshall what he’d done and he started vomiting and had to be at the bowling center at 8 A.M. the next morning for the North Pointe. I don’t know how he did it, but he got up and led qualifying the next day.”
One person who has some idea how he does it, though, is Junior Team USA member Chris Bardol, who also is a standout on the Robert Morris University bowling team that Marshall Kent will join in 2011.
“Chris was sitting behind the lanes when Marshall threw those three strikes in the tenth to win Junior Gold, and he turned to me and said ‘Those three shots were strikes right off his hand,’” recalls Dale Lehman, Head Coach with the Robert Morris University bowling program. “He said ‘That kid’s got ice water in his veins.’ He had amazing composure all week; whatever he needed to have, he was able to come up with it every time.”
And now, in the biggest three shots of his life and at a tournament where he did not even make the cut last year, he had come up with it again to clinch the title by a score of 269-265 over Matthew Gasn. And he had done it on the pair where he previously shot his lowest score of the day, a 150 in game 42.
“Neither of them should have been able to bowl that well on that pair,” says Marshall’s father. “Nobody had shot over a 211 on that pair all day long. There is no way these two kids should have shot a couple of 260s, especially with all those people watching in the center and on the live stream. That was the most incredible match I had ever seen in my life.”
“I had been in that situation before,” Marshall explains. “Just the confidence in knowing that I had done it before gave me all I needed to do it again.”
In fact, Marshall Kent had bowled that match many times before he stepped inside Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis that day. He bowled it while playing buddies for sodas back home. He bowled it in each of the six Junior Bowlers Tour events he has won this year alone. He bowls it every time he shoes up for practice while the rest of Tacoma sleeps.
“He practices like he’s bowling a tournament,” says Harry Mickelson, a Two-Time Team USA member and coach of Marshall’s. “He knows you can’t just flip a switch when it comes time to compete; it doesn’t work that way and he knows that. He wants to make good shots, whether he’s practicing by himself or bowling Junior Gold. I've coached high school basketball for years too, and I've coached plenty of kids that wanted to win, but only a couple that needed to win, and Marshall falls in that category. He's got a lot of fire in his belly.”
“Every time I practice I ask myself ‘What can I do to get better?’” says the boy with the fire in his belly. “‘How can I get to that elite level?’”
“He’s been bowling from the time when he had to push the ball from between his legs, from the time he was two years old,” Marshall’s father says. “We almost had to kick him off the lanes when he was growing up. He would bowl for six hours and we’d have to drag him out of the center, and sometimes it was kicking and screaming.”
But the only ones who needed to be dragged out of the center kicking and screaming at Junior Gold were the college coaches that swarmed Kent like kids at a candy stand with a frenzy of scholarship offers.
“In one way it was fairly entertaining, because I’ve never had this kind of attention before,” Marshall says. “But on the other side there is sorrow because you have to turn most of them down.”
“We went down there with a package that we gave out to all the collegiate coaches with the intent to get this decision done this summer so he didn’t have to worry about it in his senior year,” Jim Kent explains. “We had to work a little at it, but after Junior Gold all the coaches were interested in it.”
Funny how quickly the same coaches that make you “work a little at it” come around when your son shoots 715 in the final three games of Junior Gold to win it at age 17. But when Marshall Kent shows up at Robert Morris to join the bowling team in the fall of 2011, the coach that will greet him at the door will be the one who beat out most of them by several years.
“I’ve watched him for three years,” says that coach, Dale Lehman. “I’ve been talking to him and his dad for several years. I expect him to step right into our starting lineup. The day he came and worked with us, we made suggestions to him right then and he could not wait to try them and get a little better. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you can always get better, and he is extremely eager to do that.”
“I am so excited for college,” Kent says. “I am just really looking forward to it.”
For now, though, there is still a full year of high school ahead for Marshall Kent, who enters his senior year this fall. There are those three-hour trips through the mountains and the six games of league to bowl on the other side, the predawn practice sessions in Tacoma, and that dream he’s been working on since the day he pushed a ball down the lane at two years old.