Andrew Dys

In bowling and in life, lung recipient inspires

Bobby Hall, 20, practices at Strikers Family Sports Center last week. Hall, who has cystic fibrosis, recently bowled a perfect game.
Bobby Hall, 20, practices at Strikers Family Sports Center last week. Hall, who has cystic fibrosis, recently bowled a perfect game.

Bobby Hall stands at a bowling lane with his ball cap turned backward, earrings in both ears and the piercing below his lower lip where Rooster Cogburn was aiming to shoot Ned Pepper in "True Grit."

He lifts his black T-shirt. The scars look like a sewing pattern. The tracks show where his skin was opened, a tent flap rolled up like one of those old-time window shades. You can't see where doctors sawed through his breastbone and opened his ribcage like a set of French doors so new lungs could be put in.

"Right down there," he points, "Rolled a 300 game. A perfect game. Youth League. Ages under 21."

The 300 in bowling is the Holy Grail. Not unheard of, but most never do it. Twelve strikes in a row. Most bowlers, seasoned men and women who bowl for decades, wilt under the pressure.

But Hall points to another set of two lanes at Strikers Family Sportscenter and says, "Rolled my first one there, back in January, but it was midnight bowling. No league, so it didn't count."

Everything counts, though, when the perfect bowler has cystic fibrosis that caused the need for a lung transplant, and he still has the disease in his digestive tract. It counts when the bowler spent a couple years in bed, and he missed most of high school.

Boyd Comer, an S.C. bowling hall of famer from Rock Hill who helps with the youth leagues, described Bobby Hall as "inspiring."

Bobby Hall probably should be in a bed with oxygen piped in; instead, he's found at the alleys four days a week or more, where his average is a whopping 196 in one league and 188 in another. Or he can be found hanging with his car club buddies talking about fast cars and chicks.

"He's our leader," said friend and fellow bowler, car enthusiast and girl-crazy young guy, Alex Savoie.

No wonder Hall is a leader. He went to Fort Mill High School but missed so much school with his illness he had to forget school to get better. He got better after the transplant and got his General Equivalency Diploma and scored near the top of all test takers. He plans to start college in the fall, to study graphics and math.

His father, Bob Hall Sr., a bowler himself and the son of a bowler named Archie Hall, described his son as, "My buddy and my son. He's an inspiration. Little kids that bowl ask him for help. Not bad for a guy who, when he was a little kid, didn't leave the house for two years and had oxygen 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

When Bobby Hall bowled that 300 game a week ago Saturday in that league, the one that counts forever in score books, he was told he'd get a bowling shirt with "300" on it. Hall isn't going to keep the shirt. He's sending it to his grandmother, the widow of the bowler named Archie Hall. The grandfather who never bowled a perfect game.

"Just the kind of kid he is," said Bob Hall Sr.

In a practice the other day, with no warm up, Bobby Hall started rolling bowling balls. Most bowlers use a specific board on the alley to line up. The eye usually is trained on the spot, the bowler fires to hit that spot and the curve, the arc toward the pocket, comes after.

Bobby Hall bowls like this instead: He sets his feet and moves toward the foul line and fires rockets.

"I don't aim, my feet know where they are going," said this 20-year-old wonder.

He bowls a 255, in practice that day, with no warm up. Eight strikes in a row.

Without lifting that T-shirt, and a little bit of a wheezy voice, nobody would ever know Hall has two lungs that once belonged to somebody else.

"And when I find out whose lungs they are, I'm getting a tattoo on my wrist so I can look at their name every day for the rest of my life and thank them," Hall said.

Like the father said, just the kind of kid -- a man now -- he is.

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