Jake Czerkies is a young man who has become a very good bowler at a very young age.
A few years ago, at 15, he was already carrying a 200-plus average in a youth league operated by the Thunderhead Bowl & Grill in Taneytown.
After graduating from Francis Scott Key High this past spring and turning 18 not long ago, he passed seamlessly into Thunderhead's Sunday night adult league, where he carried a 230 average.
He said he expected to roll a perfect 300 game and an 800 set sooner or later. Accomplished bowlers aspire to both goals, and Czerkies was no exception.
"I could definitely see it happening," He said. "I was carrying a 230 average for four weeks and I had already shot a couple of 700 sets."
Well, it came sooner, not later. But even Czerkies had to be surprised that he would hit both on the same night.
After rolling a 258 and 255 his first two games Sept. 11 at Thunderhead, the Finksburg hit his 300 and wound up with a set of 813.
Czerkies comes from a bowling family and got interested in the sport by watching his father. He rolled duckpins for a couple of years until he was 7 or 8, and then dropped out of bowling.
A few years later, he was back at it, this time with tenpins. The youngster looked for tips and information anyplace he could to improve his game.
"I used to watch the pros on television and molded myself according to their habits," Czerkies said.
At 12 he joined Thunderhead's youth league. At this time, he felt challenged by a friend, Tanner Laughman, who was a better bowler at the time. He says that competition helped him excel.
When he was 14, he began entering competitions operated by the Pennsylvania Junior Bowlers Tournament Series. Over the next couple of years, he won a couple of those tournaments and also had some seconds, thirds, and fourths.
Czerkies also bowled at Thunderhead where his average steadily rose. There, he carried a 203 average in the 2014-15 season and 213 in the 2015-2016 season, which ended a few months ago.
He was doing even better early in this season. But he hadn't practiced for a couple of weeks when he walked into the Thunderhead on Sept. 11.
Czerkies though, rolled two games that were way above his average. He had opened each one with six consecutive strikes before missing in the seventh frame.
He gave that some thought as he prepared to roll the third and final game of the night. While he wanted to roll a 300 game, he was more interested in getting the 800 set.
"I think more of an 800 set than a 300 game because you have to bowl better. You might bowl a 160 and 170 the first two games of a set and then a 300, it's a fluke," he said.
As Czerkies started Game 3, he said "I had the feeling I could hit 300, but I knew I had to get past that seventh frame. I had to get past that barrier."
He hit those first six strikes yet again.Only this time, the seventh frame became the lucky seventh, and he hit a perfect shot. Then he hit strikes eight and nine.
People began gathering around him to watch the climactic final frame.
"I don't like it when people do that. It just puts added pressure on the bowler," Czerkies said. "But I didn't look back at them. I stayed in the zone."
Finally, he was up to the 10th frame. Czerkies had rolled two other 300 games, but they were during practice and not in competitive bowling.
He had one other close call.That came in 2015 when he rolled a 296 in a league match, missing on the very last shot.
"I remembered that because I pulled it, so it came in high and missed the pocket. That was on my mind this time," Czerkies related.
For a moment, he thought there would be a repeat.
"I was scared on that last shot. It didn't feel right coming out of my hand. It didn't feel like the others had. I thought I'd pulled it this time too. I went down to my knees and watched it go down the lane. But it hit the pocket and everybody cheered," Czerkies said.
Czerkies works part-time at the alley. He said he's thinking about going to Carroll Community College although he is uncertain of what he would study. The youngster says he does think about the possibility becoming a bowling pro some day.
"I want to go to some tournaments where they have prize money and see how it goes," Czerkies said. "Sometimes, you can win $1,000 or $5,000."
But two weeks ago, it went about as well as it's possible to go.
In fact, it went well enough to make dreams of a bowling future possible.
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