Ten-year-old Sawyer Jones of Pembroke emerged as the Canadian National Champion in the Bantam level of Youth Bowling Canada.Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Sawyer Jones of Pembroke is not a typical 10-year-old girl. Although she attends classes at L’Équinoxe Public Elementary School and enjoys spending time with family and friends, she spends most Saturday mornings travelling to Renfrew with her family to bowl at the Opeongo Bowldrome.

In the case of Sawyer Jones, those Saturday morning drives appears to have paid off. 

At the beginning of April, she competed in an online virtual bowling tournament and when the final pin was counted, she was awarded the title of Canadian National Champion in the Bantam level of Youth Bowling Canada (YBC). 

The number of sporting organizations using virtual tournaments as a result of COVID has exploded over the last three years. Not only does it allow certain sports to carry on with tournaments, but it also allowed youth like Ms. Jones, and thousands of other young bowlers, to compete at the national level against their peers. 

In this case, Sawyer entered the YBC tournament along with 608 other children in the Bantam division. Similar to NCAA basketball during the annual March Madness competition, the YBC reduces the 608 participants down to 64 individuals who are then placed in brackets. The brackets outline a potential path for all the competitors as they rack up consecutive victories until they finish as one of two qualifiers for the championship game. 

Sawyer entered the finals ranked #34 of the 64 competitors left standing.

Ken Dick of Renfrew is the longtime coach of the local bowling league and he said the competition is intense and challenging for all entrants.

“Just like Sawyer, all our kids do their best to put on their game face when they are entered in a tournament,” Mr. Dick said. “Most of them take it seriously but we always remind them to have fun. Then there are young players like Sawyer who can remain calm and composed at the tournament level and as a coach, we are there to offer them support and remind them to remember the basics.”

Ms. Jones knocked over her opponents just as easily as she knocked down the actual bowling pins. Along with herself, one of her teammates, Violet Machon, also qualified for the 64 brackets when she finished with a ranking of 50, a total of 16 bracket spots behind Ms. Jones at 34.

The two young bowlers eventually met during the final 64 tournament and Ms. Jones defeated her teammate by 20 points. 

By the end of the weekend, Sawyer was matched up against Kinsley East who was bowling at the TriTown Bowl in Haileybury.

They entered the 16th round of play knowing only one of them would earn the title of national champion. The two young ladies went back and forth throughout the game and by the end, Sawyer defeated Ms. East by only five pins. 

Always Smiling

Kevin Jones, proud father of Canada’s newest Canadian Bantam champion, also coaches and credits Mr. Dick with not only helping Sawyer excel, but said many children are better players and better people because of Mr. Dick’s influence. 

When asked about his daughter’s success, he laughed and said she takes the game seriously and when competing, it is all business and she has a desire to win. He said her serious “game face” approach works, and he said Mr. Dick’s ability to get the children to relax and enjoy the game is certainly a big factor in the league’s success and longevity.

“It is amazing when you think of how many kids grew up bowling here in Renfrew and they were lucky to have Ken work with them to help them become better bowlers,” he said. “Aside from Renfrew and Arnprior, it is hard to find a five-pin bowling alley, especially one that sets aside a whole day so the kids can bowl. Ken had a big part in keeping this league going all these years and he deserves a lot of credit.”

Sawyer said he learns a lot watching Mr. Dick and other adults interact with the kids and help them build up their individual self-confidence. He and most of the volunteers agree Mr. Dick has been invaluable for the league and the one attribute the longtime coach passes along to the next generation of bowlers is the ability to smile. A lot. 

“His positive attitude and never-ending smile has a big influence on the kids,” another volunteer said. “You never see him yelling or embarrassing one of the kids in front of everyone. Certainly a big difference on how some other coaches in other sports treat the kids.”

One week after the tournament, Sawyer was back in Renfrew and was hard not to miss. The constant sound of bowling pins crashing was coming from lane number one. Ms. Jones was getting warmed up and just as she was finishing, Mr. Dick quietly pointed out some type of technique to her that he apparently noticed while watching her practice.

That interaction was typical of how Mr. Dick approaches all the young bowlers. Whether it is their first day or they are a champion, they are all kids and his patience and laid-back style is perfectly suited for these young bowlers. 

Listening intently, Sawyer nodded in agreement as Mr. Dick pointed out something to her. As he walked away she grabbed her ball and her usual serious “game face” was gone and replaced with a big smile. 

Perhaps her smile was an unwritten lesson passed along to her by Coach Ken Dick.

By Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 19, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
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