When he was just 18 months old, Mason Yamada pushed a bowling ball down the lane with the help of his father, Glenn.
“It was a strike, or at least that’s what my parents say,” said Mason, of Kenai, of his parents Glenn and Charlie Yamada.
That first roll also was apparently an omen.
In late May, Yamada, 19, signed a National Letter of Intent to bowl for Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.
When he adds up his athletic scholarship, academic scholarship, Pell Grant, all the bowling scholarship money he has accumulated in youth tournaments and his Native fellowship, Yamada said his four years of education will cost close to nothing.
“It’s been a long dream of mine since I was a kid,” said Yamada, who officially took up bowling at 5. “I’ve loved bowling since the first day I bowled.”
It also was a dream of Yamada’s to bowl for the powerhouse program at Webber International University, but when the recent Connections Homeschool grad looked into the program, he said he didn’t find a good fit.
A friend then told him to look into Lincoln Memorial, which is starting men’s and women’s bowling programs for the first time in the fall.
When Yamada expressed interest, he said Railsplitters coach Joseph Slowinski instantly got back to him.
“When we first talked on the phone, we’d never talked before and we talked for an hour and 15 minutes,” Yamada said. “He could have spent his Saturday afternoon with his family, but he wanted to get me comfortable with him and see if it was the right fit.”
Slowinski is a United States Bowling Congress Gold Level coach, the highest certification in the world.
He constructed the team at Webber International, serving as head coach from 2008 to 2012 and leading the Warriors to three national championship appearances.
Yamada said he is excited by Slowinski’s desire for a well-rounded athlete. The coach told Yamada he wants a team with at least a 3.7 grade-point average.
Yamada is already used to having bowling be a focus in his life.
At the age of 13, he would ride his bike to AlaskaLanes in Kenai to bowl for an hour or more.
At 16, once he could drive, Yamada would bowl two or three hours a day for six or seven days a week.
The practice paid off. Yamada won his age group at the state Pepsi Youth Championships in 2012 and 2015. He won the Sean Rash “Stars of the Future” tourney in 2014 and 2015. He also finished in the top five of the Alaska Youth State Tournament in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and in the top five of the Kenai Scholastic Bowling League in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
So Yamada said it was tough when AlaskaLanes closed at the end of last summer, leaving the central Kenai Peninsula without lanes.
Yamada thanked the Liedes family for all they have done for him at AlaskaLanes to advance his career over the years.
“It definitely was a change this past winter adapting to no bowling — bowling just once a month up in Anchorage,” Yamada said.
He said he would like to use his education to do something about the lack of bowling in the area. He’d like to learn business, marketing and management to bring back bowling.
“I hope to open my own bowling alley so kids like myself have a chance to make something of themselves,” Yamada said. “I hope to open it here in Kenai.”
But first, Yamada is ready to do what it takes to help Slowinski build his program.
“That’s all I’m going there for — bowling and school,” Yamada said. “That’s going to be my life for the next four years and I’m OK with that.”