Hamilton woman, 80, ignores pandemic layoff, bowls first-ever 300 game by female in Chillicothe (Mo.) league action Monday, May 11, 2020

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Somewhere, if he knew, retired pro basketball star Allen Iverson probably would chuckle in appreciation.

“AI” or “The Answer,” as he was nicknamed during his stellar playing career, gained long-lasting notoriety back in the 2002 with his extended retort, “Practice? Practice? We talkin’ about practice,” to reporters’ questions about why he had not shown up for a Philadelphia 76ers workout, implying that his performances during games – not practicing – ultimately were of greater importance to the team’s fortunes.

In the Chillicothe USBC’s Trailblazers bowling league this past Monday evening, transplanted Californian Judee Strukel of Hamilton unintentionally buttressed Iverson’s hypothesis downgrading the value of practice. In the process, she made local bowling history – probably twice.

Strukel marked resumption of the mixed-gender league’s competition at The Fast Lane Family Entertainment Center – after a nearly-2-months interruption for precautionary measures taken to hopefully slow and/or diminish the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 – by rolling a perfect 300 game,

Long-time Chillicothe bowling association member and officer Dale Ward, active in local bowling circles for 4-plus decades, reported he is unaware of any other female matching Strukel’s 12-strikes effort in the second of Monday night’s three games of Trailblazers League action during sanctioned league competition.

Strukel might just be the oldest – regardless of gender – to be perfect in local league action, as well, having achieved kegling perfection at a sprightly 80 years of age.

Ironically, her first 300 game in 20-plus years of competitive bowling came at a time when particular concern is being shown to care for and protect older persons from a disease that often preys on them.

Strukel’s remarkable 12-for-12 game came on the first night of the return of league action to the local, 24-lanes bowling showplace after the mandated shutdown of the facility as part of statewide and nationwide efforts to tame the spread of COVID-19.

Although The Fast Lane, as part of the statewide relaxation of restrictions on many businesses, had reopened its doors the prior Monday (May 4), the Chillicothe USBC had waited another week to crank its leagues back up.

During the approximately 8-weeks layoff, Strukel reports, she had not had her 14-pounds Hammer Web bowling ball in her hands. She did not take advantage of the opportunity – with the Chillicothe bowling house again open during the prior week – to drive over to knock a bit of the rust off her 38-handicap game before Trailblazers League action resumed with her owning a 158 average.

Instead, without any practice for virtually two months, she returned to league competition with a better-than-average 170 in her first of Monday’s three lines.

That single game not only quickly wire-brushed the rust off her game, but smoothed and polished it to a high sheen, as well.

Beginning her second game on The Fast Lane’s lanes 21 and 22 with her four Motivators teammates and their opponents of the evening, the righthanded-throwing Strukel found “the pocket” with her first ball of game two, then again on the adjacent lane in frame two.

Once, twice, three more times, she repeated that sequence of needing only one try to send all 10 pins flying off the boards – on an occasion or two getting a friendly “carry” when the hit was a shade high or light, all without recognizing what she was stringing together.

“Because of not having the lanes next to us being used (as a social-distancing precautionary measure), I was distracted by trying to keep up with how the other (team matches) were going, since they were farther away than normal,” she relates. “So, until the ninth frame, I was not paying attention to what I had going.”

Probably helpfully, she says, her teammates and the opposing quintet didn’t noticeably change their behaviors through those first eight frames, neither offering added encouragement nor becoming increasingly quiet around her.

“They just acted normal,” Strukel recalls.

Once the ninth “X” in a row was on her line, the former Fresno, Calif., resident who relocated to Hamilton about a year ago to be nearer a daughter who lives at Raytown became aware of what opportunity now stood one frame and three shots away.

“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God!’ she shares. “I got so nervous, but, after a bit, I thought to myself, ‘Just stop.’”

Picking up her black-and-blue Hammer Web to begin the 10th frame, Strukel steadily strode forward, released her shot accurately over her target – the second arrow from the right edge of the lane, and watched it bend back toward the middle and power through the pins for her 10th strike in a row.

As the ball came back to her, she positioned herself for her approach again and once more swung her right arm back and forward. As the ball landed a few feet away and then crossed over the guide arrows close enough to give her hope, she watched as either her aim or the speed took the ball just a bit farther left than optimal as it reached the head pin. However, she remembers, despite the “high” hit, the ball’s carry and pin action was in her favor and, in a second or two, all 10 pins were down and she was one shot away from perfection.

With most, if not all, in the center’s crowd of competitors and onlookers now zeroed in on her, Strukel gathered her ball back up from the return, took a breath to try to calm herself, and prepared to try to take the last step up to the mountain’s peak.

Feeling good about her approach and release, Strukel saw the ball stray a shade farther right of the arrow this time about 10-15 feet down the alley, more evenly between the first and second arrows rather than over the second. At risk of a too-light or “low” hit in which the head pin – more clipped on the side than hit solidly – might carom far to the left side and not help start a cascading tumble of pins behind it, the ball’s spin and speed and the lane’s grip proved fortuitous to her hopes, however.

The ball pulled back left as it neared the end of the lane, thumping solidly into the “pocket” between the “1” (head) and “3” pins (first pin to the right of the head pin). With a resounding, quick series of cracks, every pin went flying off the boards and Strukel had scaled the summit.

“I just kind of crumpled down in shock, not believing it” she says of her physical and emotional reaction to having notched every bowler’s dream of a “300.”

“It’s still hard to believe.”

A banner at The Fast Lane suggests that the highest previous game there by a female had been a 296 by Vanessa Meyer within the past couple of years. There was no indication if that came in league action or during a tournament.

Strukel, who followed the perfect game with a well-above-average 192 in her last game for a 662 scratch series – more than 40 pins over her average, notes her previous-best game had been a 279 about four years ago while she still lived in California.

In addition to competing in the Trailblazers League at The Fast Lane, she says she also bowls in Tuesday night and Friday afternoon 9-pins leagues (a 9-pin count on a first shot counts as a strike) at the Chillicothe facility. The Trailblazers League is a standard-scoring (actual pin count) league.