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By Paul Lonardo
“Bowling is kind of in his blood,” Steve Horan says of his son, Julian.
That might sound like over-exaggeration, but in the case of Julian Horan, a third generation bowler, it is accurate. The quiet 13-year-old defers to his father, also a bowler, to speak about the importance of bowling to him.
For the Horans of Lincoln, bowling is a family affair. Julian’s parents are both active and accomplished bowlers in their own right. Julian’s great-grandfather still bowls at the age of 86, and a more distant relative on his mother’s side was a PBA bowler from Pennsylvania.
The sport dates to at least 5200 BC in Egypt and has rolled over the centuries with popularity building through the Middle Ages in Germany to its believed importation to America by Dutch immigrants. While contemporary portrayals of the sport in films such as Kingpin and The Big Lebowski have played for laughs, Julian takes his bowling seriously.
Steve is a competitive bowler and a member of a local men’s league. Though he once bowled a perfect 300 game, as well as four 299 games, Steve knows that he will never make it on the PBA tour. The same cannot be said of Julian, who is young and still developing, showing a genuine knack for the game and a drive to succeed, his father said.
Julian started bowling when he was 3-years-old, and he continues to work hard to improve. He currently bowls in the East Providence Junior Bowling League. Last year he won an award for high game of the year when he rolled a 222 in a league game. His personal high is 243. Last month, Julian qualified for the Pepsi USBC Youth Championship for the second year in a row and for the third time overall.
“The Pepsi tournament is probably the biggest one out there for a kid to compete in,” Steve says. “It’s a USBC event they have every year. You have to be a member and you have to qualify to get in. You compete with kids from all over the country.”
This nationwide tournament is open to all Unites States Bowling Congress (USBC) Youth members. Beginning with qualifying during their leagues, youth bowlers have the opportunity to compete in a state finals event and earn scholarships. Last year, more than $500,000 in scholarships was awarded across the country.
The bowlers in Julian’s junior league range from 12 to 18, so he’s competing with many kids who are quite a lot bit older and stronger than he is.
“That makes it very challenging for him,” his father says, “but he plays with a lot of passion and he’s wicked competitive. When he’s out there bowling, he doesn’t like it when his teammates are not giving their all. He talks to a lot of the older kids who are good bowlers, and gets a lot of advice from them because he wants to get better.”
Besides his dad and some of the older bowlers in the league that he respects, Julian says he looks up to PBA bowlers like Jason Belmonte, a popular Australian 10-pin bowler known for his two-handed “shovel” style delivery of the ball. Julian doesn’t get much opportunity to see Jason or other professional bowlers. A couple months a year on Sunday afternoons ESPN will have a slot for PBA bowling tour events, but that’s about it.
“Sometimes, I’ll go on YouTube to look at Jason Belmonte and some of the other bowlers,” Julian says.
Some of the kids that are in the junior program with Julian plan to further their careers by going to college and getting scholarships, while others who just want to continue bowling competitively will join the men’s league.
“It’s usually either one or the other,” Steve says. “You join the men’s league or you go to school to bowl.”
When asked what choice he was leaning toward, Julian says he isn’t sure. “I kind of want to go to college to bowl,” he says. “I think I’ll be good enough.”
Steve smiles knowingly at this. He understands that there is real scholarship money available, even if it is a long shot.
Bowling is actually a fiercely competitive collegiate sport that draws many student-athletes to standout programs at a variety of U.S. colleges and universities. The most gifted bowlers tap scholarship resources reserved for star performers within the sport. The top bowling schools, which include Wichita State University, University of Nebraska, New Jersey City University, and Vanderbilt University, award scholarships based on talent.
As bowling has become more popular among student athletes, the level of competition has increased for school-funded scholarships.
One of the benefits of United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Youth membership is that it offers a number of college scholarship opportunities. Each season, over $6 million dollars in scholarships money is offered by bowling associations, councils, certified tournaments, and proprietors throughout the United States.
Steve also has two younger children who bowl, including a daughter Makayla who bowled in the Pepsi Tournament for the first time this year. For Julian, who finished 6th in the tournament this year, despite a high score of 227, knows he has a long way to go, and believes that he will do even better next time around.
“He did very well,” Steve says of his son’s recent effort at the Pepsi Tournament. “He was competing in the 13-14 year-old age bracket, and some of the older kids finished ahead of him. That one year makes a big difference, but he was right there with them the whole way. He had the highest pin fall for any 13 year-old, and I’m proud of him. We all are.”
And Julian isn’t putting all his eggs into one basket. He equally enjoys playing baseball and is a typical young teen, who likes to hang out with his friends and play video games.
“There has to be a balance,” Steve says. “There is a lot in life Julian has to experience and learn. My wife Cassandra and I want him to try lots of different things. At the same time, he loves to bowl and we fully support him if that’s what he wants to do. We’ll see where it takes him. You never know. One day he might decide he doesn’t want to bowl anymore. And that’s fine, too.”
Right now, the Horans are united in a love of bowling. And for them, at least, the family that bowls together, stays together.