WEST CHICAGO – Many successful high school bowlers come from a home with at least one parent who was passionate about the sport.
Not so for St. Charles East senior Alex Garza.
“I have zero background with bowling,” said his father, Rich Garza. “He came home one day freshman year and said he wanted to go try out for the team. I told him ‘You don’t bowl. We don’t bowl.’
“He said ‘I want to try out anyway.’ I said, ‘All right, go ahead, but don’t be disappointed when you don’t make the team.’ ”
With a relatively small pool of bowlers to choose from, Garza made the team. Four years later, he is the second bowler in program history to qualify for the IHSA state tournament. Garza will be the Chronicle area’s lone representative at St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon when the state tournament begins Friday.
Garza’s bowling interest was piqued merely by partaking in the sport at childhood birthday parties and the occasional glimpse of professionals on TV. He didn’t have friends who were trying out for the team and had no real aptitude for the sport – that he was aware of at the time.
After starting out with a modest 151 average freshman year, Garza capped his four-year run carrying a 216 average as a senior. He made a huge leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons and, after leveling off some the next year, his improved consistency with picking up 7-pin and 10-pin spares helped enable him to become a state-caliber bowler as a senior.
East coach Steve Dessauer marveled at Garza’s reliability during the course of the season.
“His bowling bad was a 640 [series],” Dessauer said. “Talking about his struggles was a 640. And that’s, what, a 215 average? That’s crazy to me to know that a 640 is a struggle for a high school kid.”
Garza expected he’d be state-bound as the season unfolded but had a scare at Saturday’s St. Patrick Sectional when he struggled with the difficult oil pattern at Habetler Bowl.
“But I saw throughout the day, the scores weren’t that high, so I just kept staying with it,” said Garza, who advanced individually with a pinfall of 1,120 over six games.
Several of Garza’s teammates also had solid seasons – including fellow seniors Nick Binetti and Brad Basic – emboldening the Saints that they could qualify for the state tournament as a group.
They fell five pins short.
“Five pins. Five pins,” Dessauer repeated, as the team practiced alongside Garza earlier this week at Bowling Green Lanes in West Chicago. “Over 30 games, do you know how close that is? That’s closer than a free throw in a basketball game. It [stinks]. It’s so hard.
“That’s all we’re thinking about right now, but our team is really keeping it together, supporting Alex. You can easily see how easy it could be for our team to fall apart … but we’re all pulling together for one cause now.”
Garza has put in the time to be worthy of carrying East’s banner. He’s taken lessons from several instructors the past few years, smoothing his fundamentals, but he said the mental side of the sport remains his greatest opportunity for further growth.
“Probably just staying in the moment, which means you can only focus on one shot at a time instead of trying to see what would happen if I got a spare here, or struck out,” Garza said.
After his final frames as a Saint, Garza will focus on his next step in the sport. Garza, who will turn 18 on Sunday, is planning to bowl in college, saying Webber International (Fla.) and Robert Morris in Chicago are among the leading options.
“My dad has always said if I wanted something, to go and get it and work at it,” Garza said.
His dad just never imagined that something would be bowling.