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Bowling 'em over

Chuck Eilenberger has been bowling for more than six decades.

In some respects, the 71-year-old Central Point man reasons, his time has “come and gone.”

For winning regularly against talented younger slingers, perhaps, but not for occasionally flashing a bit of brilliance of his own.

Eilenberger took advantage of a cozy shot, pinball-like reaction and an unruffled demeanor under fire recently to roll the highest series in Rogue Valley Bowling Association history.

Eilenberger crafted an 857 series with games of 299, 300 and 258 at Lava Lanes on Oct. 3 to break the 15-year-old record of 856 by Greg Hafner.

Entering the final frame of Game 3, he needed to get at least nine pins on his first ball, convert the spare, then make a strike. There were other scenarios, of course, but that was the minimum requirement.

And that’s how it played out.

“I was aware of the record, but in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d shoot it,” says Eilenberger, who accomplished the feat in one of the two afternoon senior leagues he competes in.

Given his resume, others might not have been as surprised.

Eilenberger is a member of the Oregon and Rogue Valley bowling halls of fame, has bowled in the neighborhood of 30 perfect games — including at least one each year since 2002 — and a dozen 800 series.

Heck, one of the big series, an 803, came this fall in only the second week of the season and after taking the summer months off. A friend of his marveled over it.

“Just carry, buddy,” Eilenberger told him, referring to pin reaction.

There was plenty of that a couple weeks ago.

Eilenberger knew in warm-ups the oil pattern on the lanes and the ball he was using were getting along famously. When pin reaction joined the party, it was go time.

Eilenberger has five strike balls he chooses from and a spare ball. There isn’t much guesswork for him at Lava Lanes, his home house, where his average jumped to 241 with the big series and is typically around 230. But when he ventures elsewhere, equipment variety is a must.

“I figured I had the right ball in my hand,” he says, “and it seemed like in warm-ups I was carrying pretty good. Then, when you start out with five or six in a row, there’s a possibility to keep it going.”

In the first game, the pins kept toppling until the 12th frame. Despite a pocket shot, perhaps his best delivery to that point, the 10-pin pin stood resolutely as its mates flew chaotically about.

This has happened to Eilenberger a zillion times over the years, but not so much when he’s flirted with perfection.

“I had to take a double look on it,” he says. “But no, still standing.”

Rather than dwell on what might have been, Eilenberger acknowledged that 299 “is awesome” and went back to work.

He started striking again, his concentration sharpening with each approach in the second game. Whenall the pins fell in the 12th for the 300, he acknowledged, again, “well that’s pretty cool.”

Eilenberger’s understated persona served him well as the stakes elevated.

In the first two games, over 24 frames, he had 23 strikes. The one that got away was a distant, ineffectual memory.

“There might have been a couple in there where I might have got lucky,” he says, “so you’ve got to take that into consideration, too. You get a break along the way, so they kind of make up for each other.”

Entering the third game, Eilenberger considered the possibility of an 800 but didn’t give the local record a thought.

He rolled five strikes at the outset, the last ball coming in a little high. He adjusted with more juice on his next ball. The 7-10 split loomed momentarily before the 7 was kicked aside. Eilenberger picked the 10, then followed with a three-bagger, putting him in the 250 range going to the 10th frame.

At one point, and with a burgeoning assemblage behind him, Eilenberger asked former Lava Lanes house pro and longtime friend Randy Cochran what he needed.

“He said, ‘Chuck, don’t worry about what you need, just go bowl,’” says Eilenberger.

What he needed was the nine-spare-strike. Three strikes would have been better, of course, for a 279.

“But I didn’t do that,” he says matter-of-factly.

He left the 9-pin, then disposed of it. Ten more pins guarded Hafner’s record.

Behind Eilenberger, onlookers shouted encouragement. He came through with a pocket shot and strike.

Cheers erupted. One of them came from Eilenberger, his arms outstretched triumphantly.

“The moment itself is exhilarating, to me, anyway,” says Eilenberger. “That’s a special occasion in my mind. Then to have all those people behind you rooting you on to get it, then for it to happen, that was really exciting.”

The achievement goes up there with other highlights, notably the hall-of-fame inductions and his success in his 50s in High Roller tournaments in Las Vegas.

Beyond league play, Eilenberger’s major competitions now are in monthly Southern Oregon Bowlers Association tournaments.

In those, he comes up against those talented younger slingers.

Referring to Cochran, Eilenberger says, “We talk about how our time has probably come and gone for winning tournaments and everything. But we still like to go out and compete against the young guys because they still give us a little respect.”

And he continues to provide ample reason for them to do so.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com