Sarah Pelletier of Lewiston felt lucky to be bowling Tuesday – and not just because she was competing against the top professional bowlers in the world.
On Sunday, Pelletier, a 27-year-old amateur bowler, got into an accident on the interstate that totaled her car and left her questioning whether she would be able to play in this week’s 32-team Professional Bowlers Association Tour doubles tournament at Bayside Bowl.
Still bruised and in pain, Pelletier said she “couldn’t pass this up.”
“They’re so cool and so down-to-earth. They’re just like us,” Pelletier said of the pros after she finished her games. “I’m happy to be able to still bowl and be here to experience this.”
It’s quite the experience for fans of the sport, who – for the week – can attend PBA championship events at Bayside Bowl to watch and even interact with their heroes.
Pelletier and Joe Ramsdell of Skowhegan competed as one of the three teams from Maine who qualified to play alongside the pros in the MaineQuarterly.com Mark Roth/Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship. The event is one of the two PBA competitions being held at Bayside through April 16.
None of the three local teams were among the final eight that advanced to Wednesday’s competition.
James Goulding of Lewiston and Jimmy Clark of Hermon led the local teams, finishing 27th. Ramsdell and Pelletier were 31st, followed by Terry Robinson of Gray and Charlie Mitchell of Portland in 32nd.
Pelletier’s decision to play was a last-minute one. She said the crash came after a car in front of her slammed on its brakes, causing Pelletier to swerve before bouncing off a guardrail and plummeting into a ditch. She avoided serious injuries but played through pain in her sliding leg and balancing arm. Still, she was grateful to play across from Chris Barnes and Tommy Jones – one of her favorites.
“We bowled with two of the top PBA bowlers in the world,” Pelletier said. “The pros love coming here. The atmosphere is different from any other place they’ve bowled.”
The doubles finals are sold out – an event known to be a rowdy affair. Mitchell – a co-owner of Bayside – said he expects 500 fans this weekend.
“It’s going to be wild,” Mitchell said. “We’re just creating a new narrative of what bowling can be – when their league meets ours.”
Tuesday was tamer. The pros melted into the small crowds and children cradled autographed bowling pins.
“He’s a pro right there,” said one spectator, Bob Farr of Westbrook. He pointed to a man clad in jeans and a pullover. It was Norm Duke – a PBA Hall of Famer. “You would never know it. He’s just an everyday guy.”
Not to Jacob and Hannah Card of Brunswick. Ages 12 and 10, they beamed after chatting with the pro they had only seen on TV. Both of them compete in a Brunswick youth league.
“That was like…” Jacob Card shook his head, grinning. He will celebrate his 13th birthday Wednesday. “I can’t explain it.”
It wasn’t just the kids. John Robinson of Windham pulled out his cellphone to reveal his screen’s background – a photo from last year’s tournament of Duke with his arms wrapped around Robinson’s now 11-year-old son, Colin. Robinson said Colin has high-functioning autism and playing on a youth bowling team has helped him “blossom.”
“It’s sometimes hard to see emotion on him, but the bright eyes and emotion on his face here is priceless,” Robinson said. “Every time (Duke) saw Colin, he’d wrap him up in a great big bear hug.”
Duke lit up to learn the encounter meant so much to the Robinsons.
“Oh, isn’t that great?” Duke said. “It’s touching, and I thank God for the opportunity to be relished by the youth.”