By Kyle LoJacono
Each weekend area children gather at Royal Bowling Lanes in Lutz to get better at the game while earning valuable scholarships.
The program was started by Maria Smith, of Land O’ Lakes, 16 years ago in Miami. At first it was simply called the Youth Scholarship Fund, but she renamed it the Paul D. Boller Memorial Scholarship Fund after her late husband.
“I was a youth bowler myself and I gained a lifetime of love for the game and lifelong friends,” Smith said. “I learned about life through bowling. I thought this program would be a wonderful way to give back to the game that I got so much from.”
Currently 60 kids, including ones from Lutz, Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Odessa, come to the Saturday morning or Sunday evening program. Smith estimates that 1,200 children have participated in the bowling course since it started.
“What the kids are learning about is sportsmanship and how to play with others as a team,” Smith said. “I think it’s a worthwhile thing for kids to pick up. It’s a group outlet for kids and keeps them off the streets.”
While learning or mastering the game at the lanes, 1927 Brinson Road in Lutz, the children earn money for educational scholarships. Smith said about $400,000 has been given to kids in the program. The scholarship money comes from a variety of places, mostly from tournaments and other events at Royal Lanes.
“They don’t have to go to a traditional four-year school,” Smith said. “They can use it at a vocational school or something like that. As long as it goes to their education it’s fine.”
Josh Spence, of Wesley Chapel, has been in the program for five months and enjoys the weekly trips to Royal Lanes. He started playing the game with his father, Dan, a couple times a month.
“I really like bowling because one day you can do badly and another you can do really well,” said Spence, who is an eighth grader at Dr. John Long Middle in Wesley Chapel. “You can play very different on different days, but you can see how good you can play if you do everything right. That makes me want to practice more to play well all the time.”
Spence said his best score is 222, which he shot about a month ago.
“When I’m bowling I just try to roll the ball through my focus point,” Spence said. “I have to walk up with the right form to do my best, so I have to think about every little thing I’m doing.”
The youngest bowler in the program is Land O’ Lakes resident Devon Bilek, 6. He started in the classes three years ago and his father, Dan, is one of the teachers.
“I really like it,” Bilek said about bowling. “It’s fun to see all the pins fall down and I like learning from Ms. Smith and getting better.”
Bilek said his high score is 204.
The Saturday program is from about 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. and is for kids ages 12 and older. Sunday sessions are from 6-8:30 p.m. and are for kids of any age. Each session is $11, which includes three games, shoes, the lessons, parties and awards. Participants also need to pay a yearly fee of $17 to the United States Bowling Congress.
Bowlers can also play in various tournaments at Royal Lanes for an additional entry fee. The next event is Nov. 26 and 27. Interested bowlers can sign up for the event at the alley.
Bilek said right now he just wants to get better at bowling, but Spence has long-term goals in the game.
“Right now I want to do better and maybe go semi-pro,” Spence said. “I also want to start a bowling team at Wiregrass Ranch next year when I’m in high school.”
For more information or to join the program, call Royal Lanes at (813) 949-3606 or visit the alley and leave a name and phone number for Smith. She will get in touch with anyone interested.
“My motto is there is always room for one more kid,” Smith said. “Just get with the person at the front desk and they will get the information to me.”
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