As I walk into the dim and lengthy stretch of the local bowling alley, Parkside Lanes, I’m immediately bombarded by the loud, continuous, and almost sound effect-like repetition of multi-colored bowling balls striking pearly and worn pins, over and over again. I make my way through the alley, searching for a short Asian boy with round black frames, who seems to characteristically wear a blue hoodie every time I see him in the halls in East, though I don’t expect him to be doing so here at the bowling alley.
I was proven wrong, however, as I spot freshman Shaun Nano towards the back of the seemingly never-ending building, in a lane all to himself and his dad, Randy. There is no player for several lanes on either side of him, and his little corner is far from whatever child’s birthday party is happening a hundred feet away. He’s wearing his bright blue hoodie, his slightly wavy dark hair swept towards the right, and I catch a clear sight of him in the approach of the lane, preparing for a shot.
Wielding a pitch-black bowling ball, he holds onto it with two hands — an uncommon technique of professional bowlers but growing in popularity among younger players — and starts at a distance from the start of the lane, then launches into an almost running start, before finally releasing the ball in a flurry of quick motion. The ball spins for a split second in the air before slamming onto the ground in an arch shape towards the ivory-colored pins — strike. I’m in awe, but this seems to be just a normal routine for Shaun. The skill he exudes, the confidence, it’s different from the way he is around East.
I recall our initial conversation, where we sat outside his Freshmen Seminar classroom. There was not much hint of the confidence he has in the lane in this conversation. He takes out his earbuds as we get more comfortable, and we launch into conversation about the sport that he’s been invested in for a few years.
“The first time I got the ball to curve was the very first time I got interested in it,” he explains quietly as he fidgets with his shoelaces, looping the lace around his fingers continuously. He says nonchalantly that it only took him a month or two to master this particular skill.
Shaun is involved in a competitive league at Parkside Lanes, and is in a team with three other players. He tells me that his favorite part of the sport is how supportive people are.
“Bowling is kind of that thing where you don’t need a teammate, but it’s nice to have one,” he says. It’s clear that the relationship between his teammates is a strong one, as Shaun describes their Snapchat group chat that includes communication about their league, but also the occasional meme or inside joke.
“I like the attitude people have going into it … If you get a strike, you get a couple high fives, even from the opposing team,” Shaun says with a small smile.
“If one person is doing well we always cheer them on and if they are struggling we try to keep their head in the game. Shaun has quickly picked this up and can be seen giving high fives to anyone who’s doing well,” his teammate Isaak Izzi, a tall blonde who also enjoys the sport because of the relationships, says.
Shaun’s passion for the sport doesn’t only stem from the relationships he has made because of it, but also from the connection he shares with his father, Randy.
“I want to say, maybe 5th grade or 6th grade, but I wasn’t really into sports. I was one of those kids that just sat at home playing video games because I had nothing else to do,” he pulls at his shoelaces again, looping them continuously around this finger. “So he thought I should get into some sort of activity.”
Back at Parkside Lanes, Randy discusses his own childhood. Wearing a t-shirt with a faded image of the Beatles’ album, Abbey Road, we’re sitting at the table next to the lane where Shaun is bowling. Randy glances at Shaun every now and then, the reflection of the bowling lane visible in his black frames, mentally noting his son’s technique.
Randy bowled in his youth, encouraged by his own father as well. He slides the black glasses resting on his face to the top of his head, while he explains this part of his childhood with a serious tone. “He got me into the bowling league, and even now, I can remember what my dad taught me. And that’s what I’m doing for Shaun, for my other kids’ benefit too.” Shaun is the oldest of two other siblings, his younger brother and baby sister, who come to bowl with him occasionally.
But without complete support from his dad, Randy stopped bowling in college. For Shaun, he hopes that his son will continue after high school. “I want to see him grow in bowling,” Randy says while rotating his ring back and forth, reminiscent of his son’s habit with his shoelace.
In addition, the bowling league Shaun is involved with not only fosters his passion in the sport, but also can help him to win scholarship money towards college.
“If you win, if you get a high enough position, you can get money towards your scholarship … it would help a lot,” he adds quietly.
Wanting to follow in his dad’s footsteps even more, Shaun is interested in computer programming as a career. “I know that I’m into cars and also technology and making websites. I might do what my dad does and program websites for other people,” he explains. As a freshman, Shaun is currently taking East’s Computer Programming 1 class.
Shaun’s relationship with his dad is clearly a driving force in his life, and his parents recognize this. “Shaun is like our mini-me,” he says while stealing a glance over at his son, who has just scored another strike. “So whatever [my wife and I] do, or what friends or peers, the way we speak, I think he kind of adapted to us.”
But Shaun has found ways to make the sport his own. His bowling technique, one that requires two hands, developed after failing to spin the ball with only one hand. This two-handed technique is growing popular among younger players. “The ball was too heavy, so then my dad told me that some people bowl with two hands and I tried it out. I have gotten [used] to it and continue to bowl like that,” Shaun says.
“I throw one-handed … so I can give him pointers, but nothing too detailed. So he’s learning on his own and from his teammates on the league,” Randy says proudly, a small smile forming while glancing to where Shaun lines up for another shot, the bowling ball firmly held in his two hands.
Shaun stops bowling for a brief moment after several runs — and plenty of strikes — staring at a dark lane and fiddling with the controls. Randy chuckles at his son from our table, then says “Call them!” referring to lane assistance. Shaun saunters towards the opposite end of building. “He’s hard-headed. If he wants to do something, he’ll do it. But I’m also proud of him because he’s [become] more respectful with others.”
Shaun tells me that he has seen the plethora of bowling awards in the trophy case at East, and is excited to try out for the school’s bowling team, where a few of his league teammates play as well. “I feel like I need to do a little better,” he says after a pause, but his teammates and father are confident in his abilities — Shaun is just being modest.
There’s subtle nuances between Shaun and his father that reflect how Shaun is shaping a family tradition into his own. It started with a fun pastime that began with Shaun’s grandfather, and has been passed down through the Nano family. Now, Shaun is using what he’s learned from his father to plan a future, one that involves both the school bowling team and a possible career that echoes his dad’s.
Shaun might need two hands to get a clean strike with the weight of a heavier ball, but it’s the additional stability in the end that makes him a better person — on and off the bowling lane.
Try-outs have come and passed, and Shaun now finds himself on East’s varsity bowling team alongside old and new faces. They practice at Parkside Lanes after school — another familiarity that connects his past and future.
He has his eyes set on a promising bowling career and a strong start to high school. No matter what these next few years have in store for Shaun, he has the unwavering support of his father and teammates to back him up.
Vivian La is the Opinion Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl