Let's cheer this one.
Teenage bowler hopes to go pro
By BURTON COLE Tribune Chronicle
NILES - Aspiring pro bowler Mike Ball approached the lane in well-practiced paces. The 16-year-old rolled to a stop just in front of the left gutter, chipped-paint forest green wheelchair angled a touch to the right, and snapped the brakes in place.
Never taking intent eyes off the 10 wooden pins standing in a triangle 60 feet away, Mike plucked from his lap a 14-pound ball swirled in blue and gold. With an arcing swing barely clearing the right tire of wheelchair, he launched the ball down the third arrow on the lane.
The bowling ball slid dangerously close to the right gutter. It hung on precariously, stubbornly. When it seemed impossibly too late, the ball took a sharp hook to the left, slicing right between the 1 and 3 pins with the satisfying clatter of hard rock maple wood tumbling over wood.
Longtime bowling league teammate Ben Teets, 16, of Girard, said he once perched in a regular chair with a bowling ball to get the feel of throwing from a stationary, seated position. It raised his appreciation for Mike's ability. "I wouldn't be able to do as good as he can,'' Ben said.
Mike was born with spina bifida, a neural tube defect of the spinal column. He walked with leg braces and canes early on. The canes doubled as extension rods for smacking things that were supposed to be out of his reach.
Mike started using a chair when he was in kindergarten. Shortly after, he began a quest for sports he could do the "real'' way while seated. His competitive fires weren't satisfied with adaptive leagues and "everybody wins'' rules or special equipment. He found it eight years ago during a birthday party at a bowling alley.
"One of the parents asked if I wanted to try it. I did," Mike said. "I thought I could do it.''
He stunk. He knew he could do better. Wanted to do better. "I think I found my sport," he said.
Mike kept going back to the lanes and caught the attention of bowling coach Lou Laneve.
"He was real determined," Laneve said. "I have mechanical knowledge (of throwing a bowling ball). I knew he could do it out of the chair."
The biggest problem was learning to counterbalance himself. Leaning over with a weight in one's hand has a tendency to topple a chair. Mike said he never tipped over his chair, "but I came close!"
Now he bowls in league games Mondays and Saturdays at Niles McKinley Lanes, and is a freshman on the high school bowling team. His average is up to 95. Earlier this month, he rolled his high game so far, a 221.
Niles McKinley bowling coach Jim Kennedy said, "If I could only have all the other kids pay as much attention as he does, I would have no problems on this team."
Mike knows he needs to keep working, keep improving to reach his ultimate goal of turning pro sometime after his 18th birthday. "That's always been my goal, to be a pro bowler,'' Mike said.
Pro would be wonderful, but mom Lisa Bell couldn't be prouder of her son now. "This is one thing we found that he can do with everybody else and we don't have to make too much adaptation," Ball said. "That's been our main thing is to get everybody to see beyond the wheelchair."
Mike sees beyond the wheelchair - 60 feet beyond, where 10 hard rock maple pins sit in a triangle, a tantalizing target for the swirl of his blue and gold ball.