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Avid bowler revamps youth bowling program

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – Jack Highlander, RAF Lakenheath Youth Bowling Team member, bowls for practice at the Liberty Lanes, June 23, 2011. The league is open to all and has three age divisions: Pee Wee, ages 3 to 7; Bantam/Prep, ages 6 to 11 and Junior/Major/Senior, ages 12 to 21. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – Jack Highlander, RAF Lakenheath Youth Bowling Team member, bowls for practice at the Liberty Lanes, June 23, 2011. The league is open to all and has three age divisions: Pee Wee, ages 3 to 7; Bantam/Prep, ages 6 to 11 and Junior/Major/Senior, ages 12 to 21. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – Matt Palase, RAF Lakenheath Youth Bowling Team member, bowls for practice at the Liberty Lanes, June 23, 2011. Palase is one of four league members who qualified to attend the 2011 Junior Gold Championships in Las Vegas, Nev., in July 2011 where they will compete for a $10,000 scholarship. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – Matt Palase, RAF Lakenheath Youth Bowling Team member, bowls for practice at the Liberty Lanes, June 23, 2011. Palase is one of four league members who qualified to attend the 2011 Junior Gold Championships in Las Vegas, Nev., in July 2011 where they will compete for a $10,000 scholarship. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- Some say "Home is where the heart is," but for members of the RAF Lakenheath Youth Bowling team, "Home is where the house is."

To the 85-member team, Liberty Lanes is the "house" and their home bowling alley.

In 2010, when Michael Palase, 48th Medical Group facility management, arrived, he said he found a floundering youth bowling program. Drawing on his experience as a certified U.S. Bowling Congress bronze coach with 16 years of coaching experience, he quickly got to work setting one up.

"Last year we had about 30 kids at the end of the season, this year we had 85," said Mr. Palase.

His son Matt, a youth bowling member, said he hopes the trend continues.

"We had a good turn out last year but we're hoping for new faces and old faces to come back," said Matt, a recent RAF Lakenheath High School graduate.

An avid bowler since the age of 8, Mr. Palase is enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and expertise with the next generation of bowlers.

"It's about teaching them that it isn't about who wins and who loses, it's about sportsmanship and doing the best you can do," he said. "The time you get into the program, is what you get out of it," he said.

"One of the ways I measure the success of the program is not by who wins or loses, but by how many kids improve their average," he added.

But he also admits that socialization is a big part of the program.

"Some (children) are shy and in a year that's gone," he said.

For many youth bowlers arriving from bases with active bowling programs, the creation of the youth league means the chance to continue a sport they love and the opportunity to meet others.

When 16 year-old Lori Highlander was introduced to the game a few years ago by a family friend at a previous base, she was soon joined by her parents and siblings in the love of the sport. Following her third year on a youth league, she encourages all newcomers to try bowling.

"When they're new and don't have a lot of friends, I encourage them to come and meet new people," she said.

The league is open to all and has three age divisions: Pee Wee, ages 3 to 7; Bantam/Prep, ages 6 to 11 and Junior/Major/Senior, ages 12 to 21.

The season runs for 26 weeks between September and March with the shorter summer season beginning in June and running until August.

"As a certified USBC youth bowling program, we are a standalone entity," said Mr. Palase. "There is a onetime registration fee of $17. The fee goes towards USBC national awards, U.K. local awards and an USBC sport jersey."

A weekly fee of $4 for Pee Wees, $7 for Bantam/Prep and Junior/Major/Senior covers lineage, shoes, trophies, and an end of season award banquet.

Additionally, all youth bowlers are eligible for scholarships through the league.

"(The) Lakenheath Youth Bowlers earned $2,328 in scholarships in 2011," said Mr. Palase.

During the recent Pepsi European Zone Youth Championships in Germany, the team had 26 members attend and compete against other leagues from across Europe. During the competition, 11 of the 26 Lakenheath youth bowlers earned scholarships. The championship awards more than $500,000 in scholarships annually.

Four members from the league also qualified to attend the 2011 Junior Gold Championships in Las Vegas, Nev., in July where they will compete for a $10,000 scholarship.

For more information about the RAF Lakenheath USBC Youth Bowling Program, contact Mike Palase by email at mpalase@hotmail.com or call the Liberty Lanes at 226-2108.