For 14 years Casey Robitaille has been perfecting his bowling techniques at Willowbrook Lanes.
Practising three to four times a week, the 20-year-old bowls in three different leagues and won gold with Willowbrook Lanes’ senior boys team at the Youth Bowling Canada (YBC) 4 Steps to Stardom tournament in March.
Now Robitaille, and his teammates Braydyn Ingebrigtsen, Ryan Edwards and Brandon Kirk, will be representing Langley at the 49th annual YBC National Championships, being co-hosted by Willowbrook Lanes from May 4-6.
Also joining them will be Langley senior boys singles gold medalist Michael Dicks.
For them, competing in nationals is one of the top goals they have all been striving for.
“Bowling kind of started out as something my parents got me into, and I liked it, so my goal was to get to nationals ever since I really started to get competitive ,” Robitaille said. “It just drove me to get to the top.”
One of the most challenging parts of competition is staying focused on the game, Robitaille said.
Only 10 per cent of the game comes down to your skills, the other 90 per cent is all mental.
“It’s kind of like a roller coaster,” he said. “If you have a bad game and you lose you’ve got to be able to get back up from that. Let’s say you bowl the highest game you’ve ever bowled, and you lose, and you can get down on yourself. You just have to throw that out the door and go back and be able to win the next match.”
The five Langley bowlers will join more than 300 other youth bowlers from across Canada to compete at the national event.
Though the numbers of bowling leagues has been declining in recent years, events like the YBC national Championships proves that there is still a great demand for high level competitions, said Bob Randall, owner of Willowbrook Lanes.
He and his wife purchased the bowling alley in 1986, and have witnessed participation in the sport decline by 60 per cent in the Lower Mainland in the last 20 years.
“It’s the same thing we see happening with church groups, curling or anything that requires people to say every Saturday at 10 o’clock I will be there,” Randall said. “Plus competition from video games or movie theatres — there’s other things to do. Transportation is so easy now, kids can go to a hockey game one week and play a soccer game the next week and go to MetroTown the following week.”
While the sport is relatively inexpensive for kids to participate in — only $250 a year with no equipment to purchase — the upkeep of bowling facilities is very expensive. The first 25,000 games that are bowled at Willowbrook Lanes every year cover just the property taxes.
“Langley is a tough place to have a bowling centre because there’s a lot of space between the foul line and the pins and we have to pay $60,000 a year in taxes to have that piece of property,” Randall said. “It becomes almost prohibitory expensive. There will not be another new bowling centre opening up in Langley, you cannot support it.
“It’s not about the money, but at some point you have to say it is, because you need that money to survive. I’m doing this because I want to be doing this, because I love the sport.”
For Randall, one of the most satisfying parts of running his business is seeing kids like Robitaille and Dicks work hard to become successful in the sport.
“For me the best part would be seeing a young family come in here looking for something to do, maybe a birthday party or what have you, and have the kids get involved in the program, have the parents get involved in the program. Have their grandfather or grandmother come down and play as a senior.
“We have kids here that are five whose mom and dad bowl in a league, who’s grandparents bowl in a seniors’ league, and they have something in common. And to see those kids grow, learn to enjoy the game and want to be here. No one ever made it a living playing 5-pin bowling, but certainly to be part of the bowling community and go to zone, provincial and national finals is really a highlight for me. Just to watch the growth.”
For more information on Willowbrook Lanes and their programs visit www.willowbrooklanes.ca. To find out more about the YBC national championships visit www.youthbowling.ca/ybcnationals.