The Free State Classic Tenpin Tour filled the County Lanes center in Westminster over Aug. 21-22. The 12 lanes were packed with 96 bowlers competing for the $750 first prize in the handicap tournament.
Danny Smith, completing his first season of adult leagues, posted a scratch set of 647 and a handicap series of 770, a personal career high, to win.
Dusty Rhoades and Dave Reightler tied for second place at 762, just eight pins off the pace.
"I bowled in the YABA when I was a kid," said Smith, 22, "But I never bowled in the adult leagues until my dad died last year."
Just before the 1992-93 season began Howard Smith, Danny's dad, died of heart failure. Danny's mother (and his dad's bowling partner), Elkie, asked Danny to bowl with her in the coming season.
"So I picked up my dad's equipment, his shoes, his bag and his old Columbia Yellow Dot and returned to bowling," Smith said.
Smith started in one league, with his mom, the Monday Mixed at County Lanes, but soon expanded that schedule to include three more leagues -- the Thursday Men's and the early and late leagues at Thunderhead Taneytown.
"I started with a 130 average," he said, "But I finished the season with a 166."
Using a new bowling ball, a 16-pound Teal Rhino, fitted and drilled by Danny Haines, the pro shop operator at County Lanes, Smith entered his first major adult tournament.
"I guess it [the victory] was partly the new ball and partly that the lane conditions were just right for me," he said.
The left-hander fired games of 217, 226 and 204.
"In the last frame of the last game I almost blew it," Smith said. "I needed a mark and three pins for the lead, and I left the five-pin standing and I just barely touched it."
Then he threw a strike with his fill ball to cement the victory.
Rhoades of Westminster knows in his heart that he should have won the tournament going away.
"I had two fine games, a 227 and a 214," he said, "And I knew if I could throw a decent third game, say about a 210, I've have a pretty good scratch set, and with the handicap pins  I'd have an 800 series and that should be enough."
He was right, but as in all sports, injuries play their part in bowling, too. Halfway through the last game, Rhoades pulled a muscle in his right leg, the driving leg, and after that "I was just glad to finish." He finished with a 165.
Bowling for about 20 years, Rhoades carries a 158 average in a single league, the Thursday Trophy league at County Lanes.
In a long slump until just recently, he credited Haines with helping him pick up his game.
"For one thing, I'm using a 16-pound Ebonite Nitro that Danny fitted and drilled for me now," he said. "And Danny's helped me with my release and making sure that my hand comes out of the ball smooth. I'm practicing a little bit now and my mental game is much better."
And it's all paying off. It's just a matter of time until he surpasses his career high game and set, 268 and 734, respectively, and starts winning tournaments.
Here's a great lesson for league bowlers who never have entered a tournament. When the format includes a decent handicap, bowlers with modest averages have just as good a chance of winning as the high-powered bowlers.
L Ask Smith or Rhoades about it. They can show you the checks.