- Associated Press - Monday, July 7, 2014

SAPULPA, Okla. (AP) - Hershel Thompson knows how to fine-tune a young bowler the same way he did machine parts for American Airlines passenger jets.

The right way, said the native of Paden, who volunteers as a bowling coach for a youth league at Sapulpa’s Sahoma Lanes every Saturday morning.

“You can’t claim to be a good bowler just because you get a strike. If you start off bowling, you are going to get a strike once in a while. That doesn’t mean you’re a good bowler. You are not a good bowler until you learn how to do it right,” Thompson told the Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1jNpngc).

“We all need a little bit of help.”

Thompson, 75, retired as a machinist from American Airlines in 1998 and has been coaching boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 18 for the past five years. He had been coaching at Sheridan Lanes but moved to Sahoma Lanes because more kids had signed up for the youth league.

“I’ve taught some as young as 4 years old,” said Thompson, who said he got into bowling only because it was less expensive than his previous hobby of racing cars.

“Some of them were almost so small that they had to throw the ball with two hands, but they got pretty good. . I always have a few that change their mind about sports and they decide they want to go play soccer or something else. But as long as they stay with the bowling, I will stay with them. Because I know sooner or later they are going to be a good bowler.

“If I can get a kid good enough to beat me, I know I have done something right.”

He said getting started in the sport correctly is key to success with kids.

“I say ‘You see this board in front of you? That pin is setting on the other end of the board so all you have to do is roll it right down that board and you will hit that pin.’ And that’s what they look for when I start them off. Then, when they get better, I say ‘Down the lane a few feet, there are arrows.’ Once they can throw pretty good, I tell them to hit that arrow and ‘you can hit that pin.’ They have to try to get confidence back in their minds that they can do it.”

Thompson didn’t bowl at all until he retired, even though his wife of 44 years, Betty Thompson, bowled in a league. His introduction to the sport came when friends invited the couple to dinner and suggested they go bowling afterward.

“I didn’t know much about bowling,” said Hershey, whom the kids call ‘Coach’. “I knew it had holes in the ball and I could throw it down the lane and that’s about all I knew about bowling. At that time, I didn’t have anything else to do, and it was cheap and about the best thing to do for entertainment on Saturday night.”

It took about a year, he said, to improve his game. A friend offered to teach him, and he has since won two Oklahoma State Championships.

As with his “kids,” he had to get up his own confidence and keep bowling until he got better. He bowls every day now, he said.

“Bowling is a challenge,” he said. “It’s the challenge of taking all those 10 pins down. If I don’t get them, then I think what did I do wrong, what do I need to change. In every sport I have ever played in I have always tried to do my best. . I always try to do my best.”

With the kids, he finds most want help. Some end up calling him their mentor. But there are others, he said, who just want to do it all by themselves

“Some look at you like ‘Why don’t you go away and leave me alone,’ but I tell them I’m going to stay right here until you learn to bowl. I’m not rough on them, and I don’t talk harsh to them because I know you can’t push a child. You have to talk to them and get it through their head until they know that they are doing it wrong and that they should change and listen to me.

“Sometimes, you can get through to them. Sometimes, they are still just going to come out and just throw the ball and have fun, which is great. I always come to the bowling alley to have fun and do my best.”

Tammie Ballard, league director at Sahoma Lanes, describes Thompson as “very patient and very educational about the whole game of bowling.”

“Not just about how to bowl but about how to keep score, how far away the pins are,” she said. “He likes to teach them everything.”

Bowling in leagues is also a way to make new friends, and that makes the kids want to come back each week, Thompson said.

And if the kids will stick with the scholarship league program and bowl every week, they can earn college scholarship money, Thompson explained.

He said he plans to continue “this bowling thing - as long as they don’t run out of kids and I’m able to go over there and help them out and stay upright.

“I’ll stay as long as they will put up with me.”


Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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