WINDSOR — Mary Lou Roe tried to keep her mouth shut. "I'm gonna be quiet," she told herself. Again and again Roe told herself that. Al Engelhardt is my teammate. He's in the zone. He doesn't need me freaking out. It could dislodge him from that groove.
"Be quiet. Don't scream. ... Please don't scream." Roe did OK with that until she screamed.
It was around the time Engelhardt just bowled his sixth consecutive strike at Windsor Bowl on Oct. 21 that Roe let it rip.
She immediately removed herself from her seat next to the ball return and went back past the ball rack and the tables, way back, to where it looked like she was just entering the bowling alley.
Roe stayed there, watching with disbelief.
"Why is Al not shaking?" Roe asked herself. Engelhardt was a cool, running stream, nary a ripple, not a single burst of emotion, not even a twitch. Roll the ball. Sit down. Roll the ball. Sit down. Roe said she was shaking, as if she was on her third day without sleep.
Her nervousness was understandable.
Al Engelhardt is 82 years old. Eighty-two-year-old humans do not bowl a 300 game anymore than they win the Boston Marathon. They do not throw 12 consecutive strikes.
They do not hold up well against focal dystonia, otherwise known as the yips. A sudden loss of fine motor control, the yips afflict any athlete of any age. Standing over a short putt that means the tournament, shooting that free throw which will win the game or rolling without miss 12 strikes, the yips will turn an athlete's knees into Jell-O. With the ball as likely to bounce off their toe as go straight.
"Never" is how James Pattison answered when asked the last time he saw an 82-year old roll a 300. Pattison is the owner of Windsor Bowl. In the sport for 32 years, Pattison has never seen anyone 82 years old bowl a perfect game.
"The oldest? Maybe someone in their 50s," Pattison said.
Buster Posey was three years old the last time Engelhardt was in his 50s.
His first eight strikes gathered no attention. That's because Engelhardt didn't act like it. Usually, after the first five, a buzz starts in a bowling alley. Whispers. Finger-pointing. Heads cocked to the side, watching. That's because the bowler is giving people something to see beyond the numbers. He pumps his fist. He mutters "Yes!" He does a little wiggle or fanny shake or a quick two-step. No one starts off with five straight without showing it.
Except Al Engelhardt. He looked like he was waiting to catch a bus. He has spent most of his 70 years in the game carrying a 190 average. He ain't no muffin, if you know what I mean.
"I've started with five in a row hundreds of times," said the man who started bowling when he was 12. "I felt good, but you always seem to leave a 10-pin."
After his ninth strike the rest of the bowlers in the Windsor Senior League stopped bowling. The alley went quiet, except of course for Mary Lou. As odd as this reads, Engelhardt had bowled nine straight strikes in relative anonymity. And when he started the 10th frame on the No. 15 lane, Engelhardt had the same body language he had for the first nine frames.