Breanna Clemmer grabs her bowling ball and steps up to the lane for a few warm-up balls. She rolls about a dozen balls down the lane — and she scores a strike on all but one.
Even to a casual observer, it’s immediately obvious why the 15-year-old Clover High School sophomore has become a bowling sensation — one already ranked among the nation’s elite youth bowlers.
“I’ve dedicated basically my whole life to bowling,” said Breanna, who was just 2 years old when she started rolling bowling balls down the lane at George Pappas Liberty Lanes in Gastonia, N.C., where her grandmother works as manager of the snack bar.
And she still bowls there almost every day after school, rolling strike after strike to maintain her perfect form.
But Breanna isn’t resting on her impressive laurels — which already include two perfect scores of 300, a 2012 national youth title and her recent selection as a member of the 2014 Junior Team USA, a national co-ed team for young bowlers that will compete internationally.
Breanna said she aims to bowl at the college level — grandparents Barbara and Jimmy Clemmer have already been approached by a number of college scouts — and then go on to become a professional bowler.
“I feel proud of myself, my accomplishments, because that’s a big thing for a girl my age to do,” she said. Professional bowling, she said, “has been a dream of mine for a while, but I just gotta see what happens.”
It all seems a bit surreal to the Clemmers, who placed the first bowling ball in Breanna’s hands and have raised her ever since. “It’s just unreal, what she has accomplished,” said Jimmy Clemmer, a bowler himself and one of several coaches who have helped her train.
This summer — during the 2013 North Pointe Junior Gold Tournament for the nation’s top young bowlers in Sterling Heights, Mich. — Breanna was one of five youths chosen as members of the 2014 Junior Team USA.
The selection means Breanna will train with other team members in Texas next spring and early summer, then will have the chance to compete with other team members in one of two international bowling events next summer — Pabcon in Puerto Rico or the world event in Hong Kong.
Breanna is hoping she’ll be chosen to attend the world event in Hong Kong, where set wants to set her own record. “I want to make a name for myself — and I’d be the youngest girl ever to go to world,” she said.
This past summer, Breanna was among four youth bowlers nationally who had the chance to train with Team USA coaches at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas.
Breanna, who was the first female age 15 and younger to earn a spot on the development Junior USA Team, was chosen thanks to her performance in the 2012 North Pointe Junior Gold event.
Joey Clinton, her bowling coach at Liberty Lanes, said Breanna has done well because she is determined and listens. “She’s kind of like a sponge,” Clinton said. “She puts a lot of effort into it. And she’s got a lot of talent.”
Breanna also has years of experience. Barbara Clemmer said Breanna started bowling in a youth league at the center. Her own three children bowled in the same league, she said.
“She got her start at 2 years old, just learning how to pick up the ball and roll it,” Clemmer said. “It just gets them prepared for the next step. And by me working there, she was there every day.”
Breanna said she had a lot of early support from her grandfather, her uncles and other family members. “I remember them encouraging me and encouraging me not to stop,” she said.
Barbara Clemmer said the youth league no longer accepts children as young as 2; now the youngest bowlers begin at 4 or 5. Once children start throwing the ball, she said, they begin learning to hold the ball with their fingers in the holes, then develop their approach to the lane.
Breanna — who started keeping track of her scores and competing at the age of 10 — said she rolled her first perfect game in April 2012 at Liberty Lanes, although the score was not officially sanctioned.
She bowled another perfect game in a December tournament, she said, when the score was sanctioned.
“It’s a lot of luck,” she said. “And you also have to have the mental game, not too confident, or too nervous.”
Breanna has traveled around the Carolinas and Georgia and well beyond to compete, from Texas to Florida and as far west as Las Vegas. At Liberty Lanes, she holds the house youth record for females of 776 scratch for a three-game total, made in June 2011.
This summer, at the Tournament of Americas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Breanna earned silver and gold awards in both singles and doubles events. She was competing against players from around the world with other youth members of the developmental Junior Team USA.
“It was fun to get to meet people and talk about how they learned to bowl,” she said. “It was a big experience for me, because it showed me what I could do in the future in Team USA.”
Breanna said her focus on bowling means she isn’t able to do some of the social activities other teens her age are doing. “I don’t really have time to with all the stuff I’m doing in the summer,” she said.
She said bowling requires good knees and strong arms. In addition to bowling constantly, Breanna said she runs about twice a week and does sit-ups and push-ups to maintain overall fitness.
Breanna, who said she’s grateful for the support and advice she has received from her “bowling family,” said the effort she has invested has paid off. She would like more people to know what bowling can be.
“I want people to know,” she said, “that your dreams could be made by becoming a bowler.”