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The Perfect Game
March 1, 2011

Brian Campbell bowling› View larger image
Campbell bowling at the Maryland State Tournament. Jen Seay/Jennifer Seay Photography
Brian Campbell, an Education Specialist, just played the perfect game. Actually, according to Campbell, "I've had seven perfect games in competition. I've had lots in practice but they don't count." Campbell is a competitive league bowler. He explains that "a perfect game means that you have 12 consecutive strikes, which is when all 10 pins come down on the first roll." He bowled his first perfect game on March 20, 2000. Campbell says, "Despite my having a bunch of 300 games, I still feel nervous every time I'm about to possibly bowl a perfect game."

In bowling leagues, three consecutive games make a series. Campbell achieved his highest series in March 2010 with an 847 at Greenway Bowl in Odenton, Maryland, which broke his previous series high of 805. The beginning of April 2010, he broke the eight-year house record of an 845 series at the Brunswick Columbia Lanes in Columbia, Maryland with an 847 series. Campbell says that "Despite my breaking the eight year record, my record got broken three weeks later with an 856. My goal next season is to beat this 856."

Campbell's father was also a competitive league bowler. According to Campbell, "My dad taught me the basics of bowling―how to release the ball, how to walk in on the approach, and the building blocks of how to bowl. Just the simple stuff, but obviously the most important." He has never taken any formal lessons and is largely self-taught through what he describes as "a lot of practice trying different shots and different times to release the ball and watching the pros on TV." In the end, says Campbell, "The better your competitors are, the better you are. It just forces you to bring out the best of your game."

At six feet, eight inches, Campbell's own doctor describes him as "mountainous." His daily exercise regime consists of walking about two miles a day for leg strength and lifting 70–150 pound free weights about 20 minutes a day for arm and upper body strength. Campbell offers that "I have leg pressed 1,300 pounds already, but I don't have that many weights at home." Before each game, he does about five to ten minutes of stretches, curls, and knee bends holding the bowling ball.

Campbell at NASA's Jet Propusion Laboratory of with the new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Mission scale model. Credit: NASA The only special equipment Campbell uses is his shoes and his bowling ball, but he is very particular about both items. The sliding pad on his left shoe helps him feel the wood and is part of the momentum of bowling. According to Campbell, "One of the hardest things about bowling is that if your form is off on the approach then it is almost impossible to bowl well." He has a five step approach, meaning that he takes five steps between picking up the ball until he releases the ball just before the foul line.

The approach is dependent on several variables. The floor and the lanes are usually wood but can be wood with a synthetic overlay, which is more durable and less variable. The humidity and temperature both inside and outside the bowling alley can make for a sticky or even slippery approach. Another significant variable is the oil on the lanes. A machine lays down oil patterns on the lane. Says Campbell, "The oil patterns range from a house shot, meaning the bowling alley's favorite type of pattern, to a sport bowling pattern, which is a little trickier, to the professional bowling shot patterns, which allow the bowler to experience the exact patterns the professionals use." "It's a crazy science. Even if you know the pattern, you still have to throw the ball right," notes Campbell.
Brian Campbell next to the SMAP model› View larger image

He has a favorite company that makes his 16 pound bowling ball. He uses three balls, each with a different core material and shape and therefore different reactions on the lanes dependent on the particular oil pattern. Although he does not wear gloves, he does use bowling rosin similar to the rosin used by toe dancers or gymnasts to keep his hands dry from the sweat and also from the oil on the lane.

Competitive leagues last about 36 weeks and it costs about $23 per week per league to play. Every league has an end of season competition or sweeper night with monetary prizes. Campbell says that basically he covers his expenses.

Campbell plays in competitive leagues three times during the week in the fall and winter leagues and twice a week in the summer leagues. Says Campbell, "I don't like bowling on weekends." These leagues range from the highly competitive men's High Roller League to the fun mixed Happy Hour League and the Atlantic City League, named because of their annual fun trip to Atlantic City. Campbell is especially proud of having won the Happy Hour League's "What the Hell Are You Doing in This League?" award. Campbell stays there because he has fun and enjoys the people. He believes that not having much down time between league seasons keeps him on his game.

The psychology of competition and resultant mindset are extremely important to Campbell. According to him, "I'd say about 70% of my game is mindset. 20% is technique. 10% is luck. Too many people don't admit to the influence of luck." For example, since the pins are set mechanically, there is always a margin of error. He explains that "if I throw the ball the exact same way, ten times in a row, I might get ten different reactions when the ball hits the pins."

For his individual mental preparation, Campbell admits that he talks to himself before each ball. Says Campbell, "I say to myself, 'Stay focused. Stay true to the game. It's just a game. Just try your best.' I try not to think too much. I know what my skills are. I don't question them. I just stay focused on what I know I can do."

He notes that "bowling is an international, competitive sport. I think it might become an Olympic sport because there is a huge following for it, especially in certain foreign countries."

At this time, Campbell does not want to turn professional. On average, a tournament costs about $5,000 to enter and the prize is around $50,000. According to him, "Right now bowling for me is basically competing for fun and I'm breaking even. Going professional would mean a whole new lifestyle. The serious costs involved would mean I'd have to rely on winning to break even. That would take the fun factor out of it."

"Bowling is a social outlet for me. I have lots of friends. Bowling keeps me sane," concludes Campbell.

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Page Last Updated: November 14th, 2013
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