Home on the lanes
Photo: Kaneland Harter Middle School 6th-grader Mabel Cummins is one of the top junior bowlers in the Chicago area, with a 179 average and a high game of 238. She recently competed in the 12-and-under division of the United States Bowling Congress’ Youth Open Championships in Detroit, placing fifth in singles, sixth in the doubles division and eighth in the team division. Courtesy Photos
Kaneland 6th-grader finds success on bowling circuit
ELBURN—Ray Cummins’ first job as an air traffic controller with the Federal Aviation Administration took him and his wife, Kimberly, both Nevada natives, north of the U.S.-Canadian border.
We’re talking way north of the border, to Chugiak, Alaska—an unincorporated community in the municipality of Anchorage.
A recreational bowler, Ray started taking his daughter, Mabel, to Eagle River Bowl in nearby Eagle River, Alaska, on Sundays before working the night shift when she was four.
“We put gutter racks up, and she would throw the ball between her legs,” Ray recalls. “We had a big, empty bowling alley to ourselves.”
Ray landed a promotion in 2008 to work at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center, located at Indian Trail Road in Aurora, where he’s now a traffic management officer. It’s the hub of America’s national air space system that manages air traffic in and out of O’Hare and Midway airports.
So the Cummins family moved from an area he describes as paradise to the Fox Valley area.
“It’s the wilderness at your doorstep,” he said of their time in Alaska. “We had moose pretty much in our yard all the time.”
Ray, Kimberly and Mabel ended up putting down roots in Elburn. Their home sits on an acre and a quarter of land south of town along Hughes Creek.
“I have this thing called the 15-second rule. I can get mad at myself for 15 seconds (after a bad shot) and I just let it go.”
-Mabel Cummins, Elburn sixth-grader
“We traded moose for deer,” Ray said with a laugh. “It’s very similar to our home in Alaska. It’s kind of woodsy and remote, near civilization, but you live out in the woods. Elburn is very community oriented, and it just felt like home.”
Meanwhile, Mabel has been experiencing life in the fast lane since her move to the lower 48, moving into the upper echelon of bowlers for her age group.
Mabel, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Kaneland Harter Middle School, is one of the top junior bowlers in the Chicago area. She averages a 179, with a high game of 238, and recently competed in the 12-and-under division of the United States Bowling Congress’ Youth Open Championships in Detroit.
She placed fifth in singles in the 12-and-under girls scratch (no handicap) division. Mabel also teamed up with her doubles partner, 12-year-old Blake Miller from St. Charles, and finished sixth out of 52 teams. In the teams’ division, where Mabel and Blake were paired with two other 12-year-olds they had never met; they finished eighth.
“It was amazing,” said Mabel, who is in her first year of competing in USBC tourneys. “I got to spend time with some really good team bowlers. I’ve been in a couple of tournaments like this, but this last tournament, I just decided to go there and have fun.”
Competitive bowling is a different beast from recreational bowling. Mabel owns 20 bowling balls—the average professional owns around 30—and takes five with her to tournaments. Bowlers constantly have to gauge the amount of oil on the lanes, and adjust the speed, rotation and loft of their shots.
“It’s incredibly physics driven,” Ray said.
“In tournaments I’ve gone to, they put down different oil patterns,” Mabel explained. “It changes how your ball reacts. The ball carries the oil down the lanes. You have to adjust accordingly.”
Mabel wants to continue honing her skills, and recently, one of her bowling role models, Diandra Asbaty, agreed to become her coach and mentor as Mabel continues to go through the junior bowling developmental process. Asbaty, who’s from Chicago, won the 2012 USBC Queens tournament, considered to be one of the four majors on the PBA Tour.
“I’ve had a couple of lessons with her,” said Mabel, who practices two hours a day and meets with Asbaty once or twice a month. “She wants me to be her student until I go off to college. I think she’s a really good teacher. She has a way of helping you understand what you need to do, and helping you get there to achieve that.”
One particular part of her game Mabel said she would like to improve on is the mental aspect.
“I’m working on my mental game,” she said. “How I react when I throw a bad shot. You have to have a strong mental game; that’s what puts you above the rest. I have this thing called the15-second rule. I can get mad at myself for 15 seconds (after a bad shot) and I just let it go.”
Mabel eventually would like to become part of Junior Team USA, an elite group of boys and girls bowlers who represent the nation at international bowling competitions. But her ultimate goal is to land a college bowling scholarship at one of the universities known for their bowling programs: Wichita State, Wisconsin-Whitewater or Nebraska.
One of the benefits of bowling in tournaments such as the USBC’s Youth Open Championships in Detroit is the potential to earn scholarship money. Whatever money a youth bowler earns—depending on how one places at a particular tourney—is put into a 529 college savings plan in which families accumulate tax-free funds that are applied toward college education expenses, such as room and board and tuition.
Mabel wants to become a prosthodonist, which specializes in the restoration and replacement of teeth lost either through an accident or the aging process.
“I like how a prosthodonist combines art and creativity and being able to help people, which is want I want to do,” she said.