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Modi’in Bidding to Become Bowling Capital of Israel With Rising Stars

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World bowling champion Or Aviram stepping into an approach. Credit: Israel Bowling Federation

Of all the American and Canadian sports that are played in Israel – baseball, American football, ice hockey, golf and bowling – perhaps the last is the one that has caught on the most with the native population.

Or Aviram, who hails from Rehovot, is the only Israeli to have played – and cashed – in a PBA (Professional Bowlers Association) event, the 1999 Brunswick World Tournament of Champions. In November 2013 he won the World’s top amateur event, the prestigious World Cup, which was held in Russia.  Aviram averaged 235 per game for his 45 games, rolling a pair of perfect 300 games as well as two 299 games.  Atotal of 74 bowlers, each representing a different country, bowled in the event. 

Liat Vizenfeld is the first – and only – Israeli collegiate bowling star to earn a scholarship, and she has led the Fairleigh Dickinson University Knights to much success in her three seasons representing the New Jersey college on the lanes. 

But now, the Modi’in Sunday Night Bowling League, which meets at Planet Bowling in Rishon Letzion, about to conclude its eighth season  of competition, may put the “City of the Future” on the bowling map.

Fourteen year old Eyal Damari is perhaps the closest thing Israel has to Kamron Doyle. Kamron, now 16, has rolled around 20 perfect games, and at least five three-game-series of 800 or more pins.  At age 12, he became the youngest bowler ever to cash in a PBA regional tournament.  At age 14, he was the youngest bowler to cash in a National PBA tournament, and this year, at age 16,  he won his first PBA regional tournament.  He has already earned almost $50,000 on the lanes (in SMART accounts), and the sky’s the limit for this young bowler from Tennessee.  

Eyal Damari began bowling seriously when he was around seven years old, and a few years later he joined the adult league from Modi’in. Eyal has bowled several games over 200, and on June 29 he blasted the pins with a barrage of strikes and made all his spares for a personal-best of 246, tied for fifth best in the league this season.

On July 6, Eyal began the first of three play-off sessions with an open frame. He followed that up with nothing but strikes and spares for the rest of the first game and the entire second game, rolling a pair of 225 games. He ran out of steam in the third game and could muster just a 143, but his 593 total is his highest three-game series to date. 

His 164.06 average places him in 15th place out of 32 bowlers in the league. Eyal also bowls in what limited youth competition there is in Israel, and is clearly the best bowler in his age group.

His bowling hero is PBA star Jason Belmonte, who hails from Australia. Belmonte, who bowls two-handed, is dominating the PBA tour this year.  He has cashed in nine of the 10 tournaments he has played in 2014, won three championships, has a tour-leading average of 227.89 pins per game, and is leading the earnings race with $124,300.  When he found out that he has fans in the Modi’in league, Belmonte sent a few autographed pictures, including one for Eyal.

But bowling is not just for the young. Yehuda Kaplinsky, the oldest member of the Modi’in bowling league, in his late 60s, pounded the pins for a 233 game on June 29.

And women can also knock the pins down with success. Ziva Gur topped all the women bowlers in the league with a 210 game that same night, and her teammate Itamar Paz rolled a 204 the same game.

Also, bowlers from the Modi’in league compete in international events. Reuven Ovadia, Itamar Paz and Ziva Gur recently bowled in the European Seniors Bowling Championship in Helsinki, Finland, an amateur event with hundreds of participants. 

In the men’s A Division, Ovadia finished the singles in 102nd place out of 157 bowlers in his division. He fared better in doubles, finishing in 51st place out of 107 pairs. 

And in trios, Ovadia and his teammates finished in a respectable 52nd place out of 168 teams.  In the fifth and sixth games of the trios event, he cleared the deck with a 247 and a 266, respectively. Ovadia placed 67th out of 158 bowlers in his division with a 3,469 total pinfall (for 18 games) achieving a 192.7 average. Itamar Paz rolled a 227 game in trios. Ziva Gur was in 37th place overall out of 63 competitors in her division.

Maybe, at this rate, Israel will have its first PBA star in the future.

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