Anchorage — The 18th edition of the Sean Rash Stars of the Future bowling tournament lived up to its name in every way imaginable Thursday at Jewel Lake Bowl.
The tournament's namesake was there, looking so much like a regular guy that a stranger would have never guessed that Sean Rash is merely the best professional bowler in the world, as evidenced by the PBA Bowler of the Year award he nabbed at the end of last season.
Stars of the future were there too, including a couple who are already shining.
Devyn Williams, an 18-year-old from Anchorage who bowls collegiately at McKendree College in Lebanon, Ill., captured the tournament title for the third time, pocketing $1,100 in scholarship money in the process. And Mason Yamada, a 15-year-old from Kenai, rolled the first 300 game of his young career en route to a fourth-place finish.
Williams has ambitions to bowl professionally and Yamada hopes to bowl in college -- dreams that neither views as far-fetched, in part because Rash has shown that it can be done.
A 2000 Dimond High graduate, Rash was a two-time All-American at Wichita State and went pro in 2005. Since then, he has racked up nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in PBA prize money -- $686,145 to be exact -- and has collected a number of big-name sponsors like Brunswick and X-Box.
"He came from this town," Yamada said. "That's a big eye-opener. It makes it possible to happen."
Rash, 30, lives in Montgomery, Ill., but returns to Anchorage each year for his tournament. He said his mom and dad, Diana and Gene, do the work to make the event happen, but each year Rash spends a day of his holiday break at Jewel Lake Bowl, the place he haunted as a kid.
"I played baseball in the summer and bowled year-round," Rash said. "It's important to come back and let people know I still care, that I'll never forget where I started.
"... I used to bowl here every day. I bowled in a noon league and I'd get here at 8:30, 9 o'clock to run the lanes and watch the adults. Then I'd bowl, and after that I'd wash pins or polish balls till I was told to go home."
Rash renewed acquaintances throughout the day Thursday.
One of his Dimond High teachers, Brad Lauwers -- or Mr. Lauwers, as Rash still calls him -- stopped by to say hello.
Jewel Lake Bowl owner Kaz Teekell greeted Rash with a hug and a complement: "You still look like a kid!"
Betty and Bob Kittleson, a pair of 85-year-old retired bowlers who watched Rash grow up, showed their support by donating $500 to this year's tournament and then watched the future stars battle it out.
Pat Gee, who along with Robyn Eaton and Larry Scamahorn are the coaches Rash credits for guiding him as a youth, basked in the accomplishments of her former student.
"Sean has just been so spectacular," Gee said. "I am just in awe to think I had a little bit of influence on him, to say one of my kids is a PBA bowler -- the PBA Bowler of the Year."
Rash was a legitimate child phenom. He rolled his first 300 game at age 13 -- the ball he used in that game is enshrined at Jewel Lake, along with the ball from his first 900 series and one of his competition shirts -- and had 23 perfect games by the time he turned 20.
Rash has lost track of how many 300s he has rolled over the years, but ballparks the number in the 70s, including 11 in PBA tournaments.
Rash was 13 years old when he created the Sean Rash Stars of the Future tournament. His goal was to provide kids like himself a chance to play in a scratch tournament at a time when most youth competitions in Alaska were handicapped. Open to bowlers ages 12 to 20, he won the tournament a record six times.
Each year he contributes $1,000 to the scholarship fund, which this year awarded $3,300 and over the years has given away more than $30,000. The money becomes available once a prize-winner turns 18 and can be used for colleges or for bowling schools or lessons.
"It's helped pay for my books," said Williams, a college freshman whose winnings have topped $3,000 since he started playing in the tournament.
Rash hopes that some day someone like Williams or Yamada will join him on the PBA Tour. Alaska's presence on the pro bowling scene has been limited to Rash and Eagle River's Ron Mohr, a two-time PBA Senior Bowler of the Year who didn't turn pro until after he retired.
"Nobody has done what I've done yet," Rash said. "I don't think anyone has tried. A lot of them just do amateur stuff."
It's expensive to bowl professionally while living in Alaska, he said, because there's a lot of traveling involved -- when he leaves Alaska next week, Rash will begin a 24-day trip that will take him to Finland, Japan and Detroit. The constant travel is one reason why he and his wife Sara live near Chicago, where many events are just one flight away.
Williams, for one, remains undaunted, even though he has learned that the competition is much stiffer once you leave Alaska. But with Rash succeeding on the sport's biggest stage, Williams believes anything is possible.
"I actually want to be a pro," he said. "People say they want to be the next Sean Rash, but I want to be the first Devyn Williams."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Sean Rash Stars of the Future
Tournament final -- Devyn Williams def. Connor Staggs, 234-188. Third place -- Ryan Esteban. Fourth place -- Mason Yamada. Fifth place -- Taylor Schoeni (top female finisher).