Wyatt Light of Saco took home the championship in the International Candlepin Bowling Association youth tourney, held in Portsmouth, N.H. in  November. Now 17, he has been playing in leagues since he was 5 years old Courtesy Photo

SACO — He’s been bowling since he was a little guy and now Wyatt Light, 17, of Saco is the 2021 Youth Candlepin Champion.

Light, who bowls at Big 20 Bowling Center in Scarborough, finished with 1,503 points in the competition, held Nov. 7 and 14 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, besting all competitions in the boy’s division. Jennah Ward, who bowls from Stars and Strikes Bowling Center in South Paris, was tops in the girl’s division, with 1,479 points.

Light said he began candlepin bowling early, following in the footsteps of his father, who is also a bowler.

“I kind of got hooked,” he said. “I’ve always done contests. I started leagues when I was 5.”

Light began bowling in Saco, at the former Vacationland Bowling Center on Route 1. That closed several years ago and these days, he plays at Big 20 Bowling Center. Constructed in 1950, the Scarborough venue had the most lanes at the time, hence the name Big 20 — though the familiar Route 1 brick landmark sports letters that spell out State ‘O Maine on the roofline.

“Candlepin is a fun, competitive game,” said Light. He explained that the pins are a different shape, and the bowling balls are smaller than those used in Tenpin. “I’ve always been able to throw it faster,” he said, and the smaller bowling balls, at 2.5 pounds, rather than the heavier balls used in Tenpin, were easier to hold when he was younger. According to the World Tenpin Bowling Association, a ball used in Tenpin can weigh as much as 16 pounds. The maximum weight of a candlepin ball is 2 pounds, 7 ounces, according to online sources.

The sport is unique to New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces, according to the International Candlepin Bowling Association, which hosted the youth tourney.

It was first played in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1880. “Candlepin Bowling is an exciting skillful sport, requiring minimal physical strength while demanding great timing, dexterity and patience from each participant,” according to ICBA.

Each player must roll a ball down a wooden lane to knock over a set of 10 “skinny” pins, which are shaped somewhat like candles. The pins are arranged in pyramid, with one pin in the nearest row and four pins in the furthest row. Each player gets three rolls per turn. Any pins that are knocked over in between turns are left to rest where they fall, according to ICBA.

Light won the singles competition, the partner competition, and all events, earning the youth championship.

“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done and won,” said Light. While he is currently uncertain if the Maine Candlepin for Kids event is happening this year, his next event would be a qualifier for that venue.

As to Light’s ICBA Youth Tournament win, Mike Walker, who owns Big 20 Bowling Center, said, “The best youth candlepin bowlers in the game enter this event each year and only one is crowned the overall All Events Champion.”

“An amazing accomplishment indeed,” he said.

Technically, Walker said, because the game is played only in New England and the Maritimes, winning makes Light best in the world.

Light, who plays baseball and soccer for Thornton Academy in Saco, where he is a senior, won a $1,000 scholarship in the candlepin competition.

As for the future, Light said he hopes to be accepted into the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

He said he plans to continue candlepin bowling.

“I’ll continue as long as I can play,” Light said.

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