It had been over a decade since Shawn Thomas first celebrated a house championship at Hilltop Lanes. That changed Wednesday.
As he toed the approach for his final ball in the 10th frame of his fifth game, Thomas had already all but secured the victory over the field of 34 bowlers. He did not need several ball bags or fancy sponsored mock-turtlenecks to do it, either.
All he had to do was keep the ball on the lane for one last roll.
Thomas simply needed to remember, or regain rather, his bowling stroke of old; one that he once mastered on his way to three Hilltop Lanes house championships over a four-year span from 2009-12.
He won his first house championship in 2009, skipped the tournament in 2010, and then won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
It was at that point that he "retired."
"I got out of bowling because it got to where it just hurt too much to bowl," said Thomas from just a few steps off of the approach in front of lane 12. He spoke with a smile and humbleness while shaking off a couple of high-fives and handshakes during the interview — those came after — as he explained that his lower back pain still flares up today. "How I even got through the last game, I have no idea, to be honest."
He added, "I came back this year because I love the people here. My back still hurt all year and I didn't bowl well, so I got a lot of handicap [pins] and that helps. Then, if you bowl one good game, it can happen."
Thomas needed every bit of his 258-scratch roll plus 24 pins-of-handicap to win the house championship. The 282-pin total was just enough to edge Brian Lance (246-267) and Mike Martin (233-252). Stephen Keblish finished fourth with a 212-scratch game for a 232-total with his 20 pins-of-handicap, while Randy Hawks was fifth with a 217 scratch (225-handicap).
Thomas carries a 193 average, while Lance entered with a 197 average. The house champion reached the championship round by rolling a 435 during the opening two games of the tournament and then a 488-handicapped series in the semifinal round of 18.
Post-retirement, Thomas has recently begun to reacquaint himself with the lanes, moving into a more regular role on a once-a-week team during the recently-completed 34-week winter season.
He noted the biggest change he has seen to bowling over the past decade has been to the equipment, namely the reaction of different bowling balls on the various oil patterns on the lanes.
The equipment is so much better now," Thomas explained. "Being an older guy, these young guys turn [the ball] and twist it so much more than I do, so you have to be sure that the equipment that you have matches up with the lane conditions; otherwise, you have no chance. And that is exactly what happened tonight — I matched up well.
"[...] It feels pretty good to win, especially against all of these guys who can bowl, I mean, these guys are good. All of these guys with their names on their backs and all of that. I don't have any of that. I'm just an old guy getting lucky. These guys are good. I just happened to have a couple good games."
On the women's side, Kymberli Burkett won the Hilltop Lanes women's house championship after she rolled a 449-handicapped two-game series in the semifinals and 251 game in the championship round Tuesday evening.
Burkett, who entered the day with a 179 average and 36 pins-of-handicap, bowled a 189 and 188 in the semifinal round for a 225 and 224 total. She then captured a 215-scratch game for a 251 total in the final round to defeat second-place Sherry Donathan (158-72-230).
Donathan reached the final round following a 435 two-game total in the semifinals. April Hopkins placed third in the tournament with a 211 total in the championship round (39-handicap).