The pandemic has halted many sports, but the Teen Masters Bowling Championships, a nationally prestigious youth event, is taking place as scheduled this week at AMF Shrader Lanes in western Henrico County.
About 120 bowlers withdrew prior to the event, but there are still 232 bowlers who are competing, representing most of the country, from California to Washington to New England.
The event, which bills itself as “America’s premier high school championship event” in the sport, awards $50,000 in scholarships to participants.
Gary Beck, of Killer “B” Promotions, brought the event to Richmond in 2017 and again this year.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beck put in extra work to make his event run safely and smoothly with unaccustomed precautions.
For the bowlers’ safety, Beck staggered squad arrivals and departures. Only a limited number of people can be in the building at a time, and they can come only when it is their time to compete.
He has enforced mask-wearing, and the bowlers have colored coded-water bottles and towels so no one touches another’s belongings.
After each game, they do what Beck refers to as a “train,” meaning bowlers don’t pass each other while changing lanes. He said temperatures are being scanned, social distancing is practiced while bowlers move, and equipment is disinfected between games.
“We’re being very cautious to the fact that there is a pandemic and we’re just trying to minimize risk while still holding the event,” Beck said.
At first, Beck was worried that the event would be scratched, concern that increased last week with increased restrictions in Hampton Roads. But Richmond’s current phase rules permitted the tournament to go on.
“These people have a strong dedication to their kids into the sport of bowling and the opportunities that this event offers and so it’s amazing what they have gone through to be here,” Beck said.
From claps from family members to bowlers fist-pumping to shrugs at the beginning of the event, the COVID-19 precautions didn’t bar anyone’s enjoyment.
Caroline Thesier, a fifth-year veteran of the Teen Masters from North Carolina, said she is glad to be back at the tournament. She began the second day of the event with a slow start, but by the end of the first game, she got more comfortable.
“I just love Teen Masters because I think it’s one of the best youth events in the world,” Thesier said. “It really forces you to know how to play the lanes and know how to make changes and not be afraid to do it.”
Thesier’s best finish in the tournament is second.
She added that the tournament makes bowlers step outside their comfort zone.
“I think it’s a perfect way for bowlers to get used to not always knowing exactly what to do,” she said. “Learning and knowing how to make changes, and learning how to be comfortable with making changes, and not always scoring but hanging in there and being tough mentally as well.”
Even with all the changes, Beck is still excited to host the event and watch the kids grow emotionally and mentally.
“They struggle and then they find a way to keep fighting and that inspires me, and that’s why I do this,” Beck said.
Thesier looks forward to this event and hopes to see what new things she can take away from it.
“With this tournament, I just always love [that] every time I come here, I always learn something new and of course you meet so many different people,” Thesier said. “That’s always my favorite part because you make so many new friends every single year.”