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Finding Solace in the Lanes

Hartford’s ‘Bowling Rat’ Overcomes Handicap

  • Hartford’s Owen Connor wills his ball to the left during a high school bowling meet at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Hartford’s Owen Connor wills his ball to the left during a high school bowling meet at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow’s Montana Miller takes aim at his target yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Oxbow’s Montana Miller takes aim at his target yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Windsor’s Katey Comstock rolls her ball during the opening meet of the season yesterday at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Windsor’s Katey Comstock rolls her ball during the opening meet of the season yesterday at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford’s Owen Connor wills his ball to the left during a high school bowling meet at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Oxbow’s Montana Miller takes aim at his target yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Windsor’s Katey Comstock rolls her ball during the opening meet of the season yesterday at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

— Before a major mountain bike accident two years ago, Owen Connor was a well-rounded athlete. Even with one arm, the junior delivers the round ball quite well.

Riding downhill near his mother’s Lebanon home in September 2010, Connor’s 40-mph crash on Jenkins Road left him with a paralyzed right arm that was later amputated.

That month, the start of his freshman year at Hartford High, Connor was left to face high school without being able to participate in his favorite sports, football and baseball. That winter, he connected with Hartford driver’s education instructor Mark Hamilton, who was organizing a club bowling team.

Connor, who was right-handed at birth, would need to learn to bowl the same way he had to re-learn all of life’s activities — as a lefty — if he wanted to join the team, but he gave it a shot.

“When I started out, I was terrible,” Connor said yesterday at Upper Valley Lanes and Games, where Hartford was one of eight teams competing in the kickoff classic to begin the season. “It was gutter ball after gutter ball, but after four or five months, I was bowling 140. Now I love it and I’m still competitive.”

After morning practice rounds peaking at 266, Connor rolled preliminary-round scores of 154 and 168 to help the Hurricanes enter the bracket tournament as the No. 2 seed. Hartford knocked off seventh-ranked Brattleboro in the first round before being edged by No. 3 Windsor in the semis.

“Owen works very hard; I’m very proud of him,” Hamilton said. “You hear about gym rats in basketball; well, Owen’s a bowling rat. He’s in here all the time. He wants to get good. He wants to be the guy at bat with two outs in the ninth inning, and he’s well on his way. He’s only a junior (and) he’ll probably be my anchor bowler next year.”

Connor was one of many athletes at UVLG yesterday who likely wouldn’t be playing a high school sport if it weren’t for bowling. The VPA last spring approved the activity for a two-year exhibition season, with a committee led by Hamilton hoping to see it sanctioned as a varsity sport beginning in the 2014-15 school year. New Hampshire added bowling as an individual sport in 2009 as a team sport a year later.

A large contingent of Upper Valley teams have joined the fray in Vermont, including Windsor, Rivendell, Oxbow, South Royalton and Randolph. The top-seeded Galloping Ghosts won yesterday’s three-round tournament, sweeping the Yellowjackets in the best-of-three final, 146-137; 154-146.

Brattleboro and Twinfield made the trip to compete yesterday, with squads stationed in Essex and Lyndon the only absentees.

While individual-round scores were tallied in preliminary games to determine seeding, the bracketed tournament followed the inclusive Baker scoring formula, which incorporates each turn into part of an overall team score.

Coaches feel the Baker system helps each athlete contribute to the team result, rather than a format that only recognizes the highest individual rounds.

“This is awesome; I really wish they had this when I was in high school,” said Ghosts coach Jim Comette, a Randolph graduate. “If you’re not an athlete who’s into basketball, at a lot of places that means you have no winter sport.

“(Bowling is) something that anyone can do. You might not be the athletic type, but you can still bowl, and you get to have people here watching you. It’s incredible.”

Rivendell’s Cassidy Hodge is an example of one who wouldn’t be playing sports if it weren’t for bowling. Not interested in hoops, the senior has been bowling since elementary school and, once she learned the Raptors were starting a club team last year, she began helping to recruit around the school. Rivendell fielded 10 bowlers yesterday.

“It’s important to have (an outlet) like this for us to come out and bond and enjoy the game,” Hodge said. “I would say our goals this year are to get better, but not take it too seriously and get frustrated and angry when our scores are low. That’s only going to make your scores worse.”

The Colonels are dedicating the season to Gary Blomgren, an art teacher at Brattleboro for more than 20 years before he passed away recently from cancer.

“The kids on this team absolutely loved him, so we had to pay tribute,” said Colonels coach Laurie Greenwood, whose team donned white-and-purple patches with “GB” stitched in. “That’s just one way this sport is bringing us together.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.