Neavill hits the lanes, makes friends and earns scholarships

Cooper-Neavill-380x253SHERIDAN — When Candy Hardesty and her husband Jim took over Cloud Peak Lanes in the summer, she said she was happy to get back into the bowling community. She had always been a bowler, taking to the lanes for more than 20 years and winning three state titles.

But a knee injury forced her to take off her bowling shoes and put her ball back on the rack.

Now, it’s about bringing joy to the families of Sheridan, the same joy she felt all the years on the lanes.

“I really, really enjoy the bowling alley,” she said of her longtime commitment to the game. “The people, and it’s so awesome that it’s people of all ages. It has so much to offer for everybody.”

Hardesty got excited as she spoke about the young kids that make their way to Cloud Peak Lanes, and it’s no surprise that bowling has become more mainstream over the past several years.

Nintendo introduced families to Wii Bowling in 2006, allowing kids, their friends and their families to virtually toss 14-pound polyurethane spheres across their living rooms. ESPN has featured Sunday afternoon bowling for years and just last year promoted the program with a song by hip-hop star Busta Rhymes.

The demographic of bowling has expanded, and it’s typically expanded to lower age groups.

Cooper Neavill has nestled nicely into that younger demographic taking to the alley.

“I was about 8 years old,” Neavill said about his initial interest in bowling. “Every 8-year-old is trying to find a sport to get into or friends to make. I saw an ad for a youth bowling program, and I was kind of interested. It was just another thing to try.”

Now, at the ripe age of 16, Neavill has turned the hobby into a lifestyle. He’s still making friends, but they’re coming from all over the country.

The Sheridan High School junior started in Wyoming.

Along with competing at his home lanes at Cloud Peak, he went all over the state competing in youth tournaments, junior-adult tournaments, youth state and Junior Masters.

Then, his competition-range expanded.

He has traveled to Colorado, New York, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts. This summer he’ll travel to Indiana for the Junior Gold Tournament. He’s been jet-setting across the country to showcase his bowling skills, something he said he has to do in order to keep up with the competition.

“People on the East Coast, they’re getting all this info on oil patterns and different balls on a daily basis,” he said. “I’m kind of secondhand to that. It’s kind of hard to compete with all these kids that are getting that, when I’m not getting any of it. I’m not getting the opportunities they are unless I really reach out.”

And his parents have been with him every step of the way.

Maureen Neavill, the teen’s mother, was encouraged to see her son invest his time and interest into something positive.

“As long as our kids are into healthy, productive things, we will support them,” she said. “If (Cooper) came to us and said he was interested in playing the harp, we would have said sure. But the bowling alley is a fun place, a safe place. The people that own it have been good to us, and we enjoy bowling, too, so that helps.”

Cooper Neavill’s parents mentioned some challenges of their son’s passion, mainly the time and money commitment involved in all the travel.

But they’re thankful to have jobs and bosses that are flexible with time, and they added that there aren’t many sports these days that don’t feature at least some of those same challenges.

And their commitments, along with their son’s commitments, have paid off.

In October of 2014, the young bowler threw his first perfect game at a tournament in Gillette. Yes, first, meaning there were — and probably are — more to come.

Perfect game No. 2 came just three months after the first, this time at Cloud Peaks Lanes in front of his friends and peers. And then again, two months ago, Neavill was back in Gillette rolling a 300 at the Wyoming Youth State Bowling Tournament.

“I don’t think I really understood what I was getting to at maybe frame seven or eight,” he said of the first perfect game. “It was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got seven or eight strikes in a row, and this could potentially be something cool.’ And once I got to the 10th frame, people stopped bowling and surrounded my lane. I was like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’

“Once I threw that last strike, the whole crowd erupted, and I got congratulated by everyone,” he added. “It really meant a lot considering a lot of bowlers go their whole lives without throwing one perfect game. I’ve had the opportunity to throw three.”

And Neavill is already thinking ahead. His “how can I get better at bowling” attitude became “how can I use bowling to get better at life.”

Along with the high-fives and handshakes, his perfect games and tournament victories have earned him scholarships. That’s been a propellant in using college to further his bowling career, and vice versa.

“I’m really starting to look out to colleges to bowl,” he said. “Being a college bowler would enhance my abilities, tenfold. Within a couple years, I’ll go to college. After that, whether I join professional regional tournaments and stuff like that, that’s a process I’ll just have to go through.”

No matter where bowling takes Neavill or how far it takes him, he doesn’t see himself shelving his bowling ball anytime soon. And like Hardesty said, there’s always an open lane, no matter your age.

“I don’t know,” Neavill thought. “I guess I’ll just bowl until I die.”

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