EAST PROVIDENCE — Mike Kirby knows all about rivalries, and how opponents may try to gain a psychological advantage. But this 20-year-old Townie also knows how to nip it in the bud.
The issue began while he and his four teammates, those making up “The Bowling Academy All-Stars,” warmed up during a practice round last Friday night, just 12 hours before the start of the 38th annual National Duckpin Youth Championships at the AMF Southwest Lanes in Linthicum, Md.
“Someone walked up to me — I don't know who it was — and said they had talked to a lanes supervisor,” Kirby offered. “The guy told me, 'Your teammate (Brandon Gaudreau, 16, of Seekonk) is lobbing his ball, and there's a three-strike rule before he'll be ejected for it during this tournament.' I just thanked him for the message, but Brandon heard it.
“That got him nervous, and my other teammates got nervous; I mean, we were upset,” he added. “It was like someone was trying to pick on a family member, and I didn't like it. I sat the team down and said verbatim, 'Forget everybody here. We just have to bowl our game, the way we know how.' I told them we had to be quiet and courteous, and to bowl to the very best of our abilities.”
The next morning — Saturday, June 25 — Kirby and Co. did just that: The quintet rolled an incredible 286 pins over their collective average in their regular bowling league and snared the NDYC Major Division crown with a scratch series total of 1,820.
(It should be noted that Mount Airy Lanes of western Maryland delivered the next highest series score of 1666. That, however, was a whopping 154 less than the new national team champs).
They now have a plaque depicting the accomplishment, and — without question — it will be hung on the wall of the decades-old, and famed, Taunton Avenue duckpin center. In addition, they garnered the team high handicap series with a 2,276 total.
Those earning such greatness included Kirby; Gaudreau; Colby Miller, 16 and an East Providence High senior-to-be; Amanda Duarte, 16, a Townies' junior-to-be; and Mike DiQuinzio, a 22-year-old Riverside resident who recently graduated from the Community College of Rhode Island.
Miller highlighted the contingent's trek to Maryland, mustering victories in the Major Division boys' scratch high three-game series (443); scratch high game (161); most spares (12); and most strikes and spares (17).
He also snagged the NDYC's Cap and Dorothy Capello Memorial Scholarship Award with that scratch high series. The amount: $500 for the college or university of his choice. The Capellos, who resided for years in Seekonk, owned and operated The Bowling Academy, just as son Peter does now.
To illustrate how amazing their collective improvement was at such an opportune time, Miller — with that 443 — rolled 119 pins superior to his 324 league series average in E.P.; Gaudreau 56 better; Duarte 46 more; DiQuinzio 39 more; and Kirby a “mere” 36.
“I think I know why,” Kirby grinned. “There was a lot of animosity against us going into nationals because there's sort of a 'North vs. South' feud going on. The south teams, those from Maryland and Virginia, believe they're better because that's the birthplace of duckpin bowling. They feel superior. Rhode Island, on the other hand, considers itself best, as we've been doing this up here for years.
“Our feelings were, 'It's not about where it started, but the individual abilities within each league,'” he added. “The reason we bowled so much better: We were nervous. That's why I sort of took a captain's role in this with the comments about Brandon. I wanted us to calm down and do what we do best.”
Duarte also won a plaque for most strikes (six) rolled in the Major Division girls' category.
Miller currently owns three individual national titles in the high series category. In 2004, at age 9, he took the Preps Division title, and did the same last year in the Junior Division. In fact, he earned U.S. team championships in his age group those same years.
Not bad for someone who started duckpin kegling just for fun.
“I joined my first league when I was six, and I loved it,” said Colby, sitting next to his mom, Lynn Miller, also the All-Stars' coach. “I didn't see success right away, but I liked it because there was a little competition involved.”
He mentioned he grew up at the academy with his friends, among them Duarte, DiQuinzio and Kirby.
“We all started at about the same time, though Brandon is sort of the newcomer to our youth league,” he noted.
Laughed Gaudreau: “It took a little while for me to be accepted, but it happened, I guess, because of my consistency.”
When asked if he could believe how far he's come, Miller exclaimed, “Are you kidding? Never! I didn't really see it as a hard-core, competitive sport; it was just more of a hobby, something to do for fun. I never could've dreamed this up.
“Someday, I'd like to be dentist; I don't know why,” he added with a grin. “I know they make good money, and I always wanted to do something that's hands-on, be in a job that's different every day … I'd love to bowl duckpin in college, but I don't know if there's a school that offers it. If there is, it's probably down in Maryland or Virginia.
“I've had success with it, so I'd like to take it a step further … If not in college, I'd love to be a professional (duckpin) bowler. Mike Arena, who's our youth league's head coach, was on the pro tour once, but the winnings aren't real high.”
All revealed they've never traveled to the Boston area to attempt candlepin, but would love to. In fact, some seemed shocked when told deadwood remains on the lanes, and one must bowl “through” them.
They also stated they'll go ten-pin kegling once or twice a year with friends, but prefer the toils of duckpin.
“I think it's harder,” Duarte said. “It's more competitive, and — statistically — it's more of a challenge. The size of the bowling ball is smaller, and there's more space between pins. Trust me, it's not easy.”
Becoming the new national Major Division (16-21) team titleist meant different things to all five, and Duarte's the most touching.
“This is my first national championship, and it's so special,” she said, struggling to hold back tears. “After we won, I cried on the bus. In November, my great-grandmother (Marie Vargas of Bristol) passed away, and she was a duckpin bowler.
“This year, for me personally, I called my 'Great-Grandma Year,'” she added. “I wanted this for her. When I was little, if I rolled my best score or won a trophy, I'd go to her. She loved hearing about it.”
As for DiQuinzio, this was his last chance to win another national team crown, as he soon will be too old to compete next year.
“I was part of a Junior Division team that won nationals in 2003; I remember it was in Hagerstown, Md., and I really wanted to win again,” he explained. “This is sweet for a lot of personal reasons. One's that this is the last year Peter (Capello) would be the National Duckpin Proprietors Association President. We'd be going out together, though I didn't know that until the banquet,” which was held at the ritzy Crowne Plaza Royale Hotel on Saturday night.
“We had to wait through the afternoon to find out we won,” Kirby said. “I had told the kids that one of my big things was to be really humble, that I'd rather be humble and win than cocky and lose. When I heard we were the champs, my adrenaline spiked. Over the years, I've won two previous national team titles, but both times I came in third individually.
“I was a personal challenge to me; I wanted desperately to win another national championship before my time was up in youth league.”
Stated Coach Miller: “Where do I start? Kirby was the glue that kept this group together. He remained calm during the tournament, and the others just followed suit. It was almost contagious. I couldn't be any prouder of them for such remarkable improvement.
“They just bowled the way they know how,” she continued. “I could have asked for anything more. They knew what they had to do, and did it.”