Right Up His Alley

08/02/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

SUSAN McMAHON, Sun Staff

DRACUT There's an art, a technique to a perfect game.

Concentrate, pull back, release. Concentrate, pull back, release.

Jeff Buggea knows all about the rhythm. He's a professional, after all.

But he's not a major league pitcher. Buggea is a bowler, and has been since he was 12 years old. Nowadays, he travels on the pro circuit, pocketing wins when he can and trying to secure spots on television bowling shows.

And he does it all in his spare time, nights and weekends off from school and work. Despite all the pressure on his time, he wants to improve and perfect his game.

"It's a lot of pride in the game. You want to get known as a bowler," he said. "I feel like I have more responsibility because I want to have a name for the youth. I want to get better and better. It's that pride issue."

And he wants to give a shot in the arm to a sport that has seen better days.

Bowling is in the genes for Buggea. His parents met at a bowling alley. His father got Buggea into it when he was young.

Buggea was into other things when he was younger, too baseball especially. But he soon realized he was good at bowling.

Very good.

And he kept at it, kept practicing and perfecting his technique and mindset.

"Summer, fall, winter I'm always bowling. I try to get sharper, to get better," he said.

He began by playing every week in one of the local youth leagues. Then he moved to a more organized group at Pilgrim Lanes in Haverhill. There he learned more about the rules, the techniques, the mental stamina required for bowling.

There, coaches encouraged him to go further.

So he did.

He began trying out for televised bowling (he's been on TV seven times), worked the pro tour two years ago (finishing fourth twice), won prizes where he could and tried to get his homework done. Because, in the end, he knew he could never make a career out of the sport. He, like most other bowlers, would have to work full-time, then bowl nights, on the weekends, whenever he had a spare minute.

Sometimes, during the televised games, he could pocket as much as $1,000. But those only came around every couple of weeks certainly not enough to support himself.

That's one of the problems with the sport today, he says a lack of funding. "Candlepins for Cash" on WCVB-5 has gone off the air, which provided a large portion of the televised games bowlers could enter. Now there's some Channel 50 games, and some on AT&T cable, but that's about it.

There are hopes that maybe the sport could get a spot on ESPN or NECN. That would help, Buggea says. But he knows that interest in the sport isn't at an all-time high right now, and it seems unlikely that things will turn around soon.

But he hopes other young people like him get involved in the sport and keep it alive. He has two young brothers, whom he plans to initiate into the finer points of the bowling culture.

"I've just got to try to keep the game going," he said.

As for the future, he plans to finish his degree in criminal justice at UMass Lowell, find a job, and bowl whenever he can. He wants to keep improving his game, keep practicing and playing in tournaments whenever he can.

But his classmates at UMass Lowell probably don't know there's a professional athlete in their midst. And Buggea isn't one to tell them.

"I know what I've done," he said. "I don't need to brag about it."

Susan McMahon's e-mail address is smcmahon@lowellsun.com .