Bowling a perfect 300 game is a cause for celebration, but when two bowlers within a three-month period each score 12 strikes playing with local leagues, the owners of the Ruidoso Bowling Center said it is time for some bragging.

Natalie and David Cecil, who consider their 10-lane operation a “little Cadillac” of a center, said the age spread between the two bowlers at the times of their games, one 19 with about three years of experience and the other 80 with 40 years of playing, brings home the point that bowling knows no age limits.

Sam Potter, 20, bowled his perfect game on March 7, and is looking at a career in the sport.

Joe Schaffer, 81, posted his perfect game on May 9, one of three he racked up. The other two occurred in the 1970s, but were not sanctioned, which requires they occur in league competition.

Both games were bowled with the Thursday Night Men’s League, Natallie Cecil said.

“They each received their choice of awards from (the United States Bowling Congress), the organization that sanctions bowling across the United States,” she said. “They also each received $100 dollars from a fund that local businesses contribute to for recognition of the accomplishments. Those business are displayed with their choice of advertising on a large TV.”

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“This was my first sanctioned perfect game,” Schaffer said. “I bowled it in May while playing for a league. I was 80.”

He chose a “300” ring as his award, he said.

Originally from Carlsbad. Schaffer moved to Ruidoso in the 1960s and worked for Ruidoso Paving for 18 years.

“I was a 198 average when I bowled the 300,” he said. “My team members were all pretty surprised that at my age I bowled one.”

He has bowled twice a week for the last 10 years, often with his wife, Schaffer said. He’s convinced bowling is staging a big comeback.

“It was pretty popular in the 70s, fell off, but there are more bowlers now than ever,” he said. “It keeps me in shape. I also walk on the treadmill three times a week and lift hand weights.”

Potter sees a career

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Potter came to Ruidoso with his family about eight years ago, but he didn’t start bowling until he was 17 and now works at the bowling alley.

“I’ve been playing sports my whole life and was looking for an (activity) after I got out of high school and I had nothing else to do,” he said. “I got the job at the bowling alley, because I was here so much when I first started and they offered me the job.”

He bowls 50 to 60 games a week, Potter said.

“Going into that night (of the perfect game) was my 30th attempt with 11 strike lead-ins,” he said. “It was nerve-racking, but a very hard-fought and joyful moment. It’s mostly mental. Physically, once you bowl enough, it’s all the same every night. Most of what screws you up is the mental thing.”

He was bowling with the Thursday Night Men’s League, which has about 50 members, he said.

“Everybody knew what was going on, because I had been so close so many times,” Potter said. “It was one of those nights where everything went my way. I didn’t get my ring, because couldn’t afford it, but we are on that board. It’s pretty cool.”

He was referring to the 300-game honor board at the bowling center bearing the names of bowlers who hit the mark. In the more than two decades the Cecils owned the alley, more than 20 people bowled perfect games and several did it more than once.

They have a separate board for people who bowled an 800 series. To record an 800 three-game series, a bowler must average 267 or better. Bowling an 800 series takes three times as many frames of performance compared to twelve frames in a 300 game.

Potter’s first sanctioned 300 game wasn’t his first perfect game, he said.

“I think I have a total of seven in practice, none of which counts.” he said. “I’m starting to go to a lot of pro tournaments now and want to make a career of it. It starts with regional stuff. The only issue is that there is not a consistent tour. There may be one tournament a month or four. I have to save up money to go and they never are in-state. Once I can compete in enough regionally, I can go national.”

His next tournament is Sept. 20 in Midland, Texas.

What is a perfect game?

According to online definitions, a perfect bowling game of 300 is the highest score possible, achieved by scoring a strike in every frame, 12 consecutive, in traditional bowling games that use 10 pins; one strike in each of the first nine frames and three more in the 10th frame.

“Because a strike counts as ten pins plus any pinfall in the next two balls, 30 points are possible in a given frame. In current frame scoring game, 10 strikes in a row means perfect game,” according to the definition.

In league or tournament play, a certified 300 game usually is commemorated with a ring. Subsequent league 300s are denoted by setting “chips” or precious stones into the ring, so that skilled bowlers don’t have to wear several rings. 

Cecils buy into bowling

Dave and Natalie Cecil were working for Southwestern Bell in Austin, Texas, when Natalie told her husband that someday she would like to retire to Ruidoso.

“I had vacationed here and brought him here a couple of times, and he liked the area as well,” she said. “In 1994, he took an early retirement at 47, and we came here in 1995 on vacation. I thought he and my son were going to play golf, but they couldn’t get tee time and they found the bowling center and it was for sale.

“That evening to my surprise, David told me he thought he wanted to buy it.”

Although she wasn’t ready to retire, she found a job in El Paso and they moved to Ruidoso in 1995, and bought the bowling center.

“We both had bowled most of our lives and our son was in junior bowling,” she said. “David didn’t know what he was going to do with the rest of his life and decided this what was it. He needed something to do and the center needed some improvements. He committed to improving something every year.”

That dedication resulted in “a really nice facility and we’re very pleased with how it has come out over the last nearly 25 years,” Natalie said. “It is a nice small little Cadillac center in our opinion.”

David Cecil has bowled three perfect games, but all occurred in Austin and Corpus Christi before they moved to Ruidoso, not in his own center.

A Senior League bowls on Tuesday afternoon, mixed leagues on Tuesday and Wednesday and a men’s league on Thursday, Natalie said.

“Monday night we have discount bowling and call it our local family night,” she said. “On Friday and Saturday, we have glow in the dark bowling. We turn out the lights and we have black lights. The mural all glow in the dark, lights go up and down the lanes and we have strobe lights. It’s interesting and people seem to enjoy it.”

Some graphic updates with photographs by Mark Stambaugh, a well-known local photographer, reflect the splendor of the area, Natalie said. The green Sierra Blanca Mountain at the end of the lanes will change to highlight snow in November.

More: End of summer: places to see and things to do in southeastern New Mexico

During the days, lanes usually are available after the center opens at 11 a.m. On league nights, the Cecils close open bowling at 6 p.m. to take the next hour preparing for the league bowlers to arrive at 7 p.m., and they take up all lanes for the rest of the evening.

Manager Weldon Ganaway has built a good team of employees to welcome experienced bowlers and newcomers to ensure they have a good time, Natalie said. Besides bowling, pool, and video games are available along with darts and several televisions broadcasting sporting events, she said.

More: Best things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico: Your guide to the mountain resort town

The Bullring Snack Bar and Grill offer pizza and outstanding burgers, Natalie said, adding that birthday and company parties can be booked..

The Ruidoso Bowling Center is tucked behind Farley’s at 1202 Mechem Drive.

Reporter Dianne Stallings can be contacted at dstallings@ruidosonews.com.

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