RAWLINGS — It wasn’t a fluke when local bowler Trevor Ashby finished second at the U15 Junior Gold Championships in Indianapolis in July, but he did need some aid from lady luck along the way.
Staring down elimination two wins away from the top three, to be broadcast on BowlTV, Ashby watched helplessly as Aidan Furukawa (Sunbury, Ohio) was a spare from victory. Fortune favored Ashby, Furukawa opened the final frame, and the up-and-comer advanced.
He made the most of it and won the elimination bracket, and even toppled the top seed once on his way to a second-place finish out of 631 bowlers. Ashby secured a spot on the Team USA developmental squad and won $4,200 in scholarship money.
But more important than the spoils, the result provided validation for Ashby. All the time in the bowling alley, or in the improvised one his family built, was worth it.
“My goal was to make the first cut, which they took the top 90, which is averaging around 170-180,” Ashby said. “Got there, and the goal was to make the next cut, and the next cut, and it just kept on going. You take one goal at a time, and that’s usually just how it goes for me. I don’t just take one giant step.
“You just work so hard for this, and it just kind of hit me that, ‘You made it and you’re going to be on TV, and everybody’s going to be watching.’”
The journey began with four rounds of qualifying to determine the final 90 bowlers — Ashby ranked 28th with a 194.3 average — followed by two advancer rounds.
Ashby made the top-56 cut to get to the second advancer stage, rising to the top 10 to make the final 16. Prior to the last 16, which was a double-elimination match-play bracket, bowlers were competing against themselves to get the highest scores and survive cut-offs.
“I realized I was on a roll when I made the top 16,” Ashby said. “I didn’t think I made the top 16, and we refreshed the page about a thousand times to figure out if we made it. And we found out we were 10th, and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh. OK, on to another day.’”
After back-to-back wins over seventh-seeded K.C. Campbell (Newark, New Jersey) and No. 2 Keegan Alexander (Killeen, Texas), Ashby fell to No. 3 Ethan Caruso (Channahon, Illinois) and entered the elimination bracket.
That’s when Ashby needed some good fortune to get past Furukawa and keep his dreams of playing in the televised final three alive.
Thomas Jefferson put it well when he said, “I’m a believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Ashby may have been fortunate to get past Furukawa in Indianapolis, but he made his own luck.
Relative to his contemporaries competing at United States Bowling Congress tournaments, Ashby was a late starter. In the summer of 2018, the then-12-year-old Ashby was bored, plain and simple.
White Oaks was having a kids bowl free, and Ashby and his family just wanted the two free games. His indifference didn’t last long.
“I was like, ‘We’re kind of good at this.’ I kind of liked seeing my ball do the curve, developed my two-hand style,” Ashby recounted.
“It kind of went on from there. I got addicted real fast.”
Three days a week at White Oaks eventually grew to five, and his passion for bowling only strengthened when he won his first tournament.
“There’s no better feeling than when you’re No. 1 and you won,” Ashby said. “It’s local, granted the field wasn’t huge but that doesn’t matter. Something clicked in my brain.”
An underrated factor in Ashby’s ascension is the supportiveness of his parents Mark, who records audiobooks for the Library of Congress, and Jennifer, an occupational therapist.
The pair aren’t bowlers themselves, but they were all-in when their son found his passion.
“If that’s what he wants to do, we’re going to try to make it happen,” Mark Ashby said. “I was surprised that he was so into it, it was 0 to 60. I knew that he liked it, and I knew he could do well in tournaments, but it wasn’t until this whole Gold thing where I went, ‘Wow. His name is going to be on some people’s radar now.’”
Trevor Ashby moved from the handicap division, where they spot you more pins, to the scratch division and continued to climb the ranks. However, like the rest of world, the rising competitor faced a new obstacle in the form of COVID-19.
When local bowling allies were forced to close up shop due to the pandemic last year, Ashby found a solution.
The family converted a patch of their garden to a make-shift bowling lane, and Ashby used old balls and pins to continue practicing his form and retain muscle memory.
“I was losing my mind for sure during quarantine,” he said.
When things opened back up, Ashby picked up a new coach, enlisting the help of professional Morgantown-based bowler Brian “B Rob” Robinson.
Working with a member of the PBA tour was a daunting proposition, especially with Ashby still trying to get his form right after lockdown.
“I was definitely nervous because he’s up on the big tour, he learns from all the greats like Walter Ray, Parker Bohn, Pete Weber, all the big names. He grew up watching them, so I’m a sponge to him,” Ashby said.
“To get all the physical stuff back with a coach, who happens to be a pro bowler, it does impact you. ... He’s just helped me mentally and physically through the last year-and-a-half. I just can’t thank him enough.”
With the help of Billy Gasn, a tournament director in Baltimore, Vicki Barnhart Coughlin, a local coach with Western Maryland USBC, Robinson and his parents, Ashby was ready to take the next step.
Ashby’s father credits his son’s work ethic for his performance at the biggest tournament — which he played a whopping 36 games during — of his budding career.
On the final day, Ashby started at seven in the morning and didn’t get done until nine at night, playing 14 games.
“He has so much stamina because he practices so much,” Mark Ashby said. “He’ll practice 10 games in a stretch. You’ll usually play four or five in a tournament setting, so he’s built up that stamina that got him through those long days at Junior Gold.”
Yes, the 15-year-old bowler was fortunate that Furukawa missed his mark, but he put in countless hours to deserve it.
After surviving Furukawa, Ashby toppled No. 13 Owen Williams (Tipton, Michigan) to make the final three, where he won his rematch with Caruso, 222-193.
Needing to beat No. 1 Landin Jordan (Sycamore, Illinois) twice for the title, he won 258-182 but came up just short falling 248-182 in the winner-take-all title match.
While it wasn’t the result Ashby wanted, the second-place finish ensured he got a spot on Team USA’s developmental team next fall.
The team, based out of Arlington, Texas, features 24 kids who will work with the top coaches in the country. The goal is to develop them both to compete on an international level and to bowl professionally one day.
“I just want to be a sponge to all the information and execute,” Ashby said. “Just be a sponge to all the feedback. ... We’re gonna work with the best coaches to work up to that level (of playing on the PBA tour).”
Ashby wants to create his own developmental network in the Cumberland area, too. The 15-year-old, who turns 16 later this month, aims to show local kids, not unlike himself three years ago, that bowling competitively is an option.
“I want to help grow the sport in our local center, White Oaks, maybe even Rainbow (Lanes) down in Keyser,” he said. “After leagues, to where I can coach or guide physically or mentally, so they can grow to be on the PBA Tour. I’m just gonna be there to be by their side and guide them.”
Since competing at the Junior Golds, Ashby was on a team that reached the quarterfinals of the Storm U.S. National Junior Team Challenge in New Castle, Delaware, on Aug. 8, and he placed seventh at a major event in Lancaster on the Pennsylvania Junior Bowlers Tour on Aug. 29.
His next major event is the Storm Youth Championships Coastal Classic, which begins on Oct. 1, in Little River, South Carolina.