Starlite experiencing a 300 explosion

By Steve Sell
December 11, 2014

There was a time when 300 games at Starlite Lanes had gone the way of the dinosaur.

A way back when, there were years where nary a 300 game was bowled.

That was then, this is now.

On Wednesday, Nic Rawson — who came up through the ranks of Nettie Wann’s wonderful youth bowling program at Starlite — rolled his second 300 in less than a week. He had bowled a 300 game last Thursday in the Wendy’s Classic League.

Rawson’s perfecto was the 15th — 15th! — this year at Starlite. And we’ve just reached the halfway point of the season.

The silky-smooth Beau Peterson has three to his credit this season. Rawson and Lanse Small have two. Former Buhler High star Kirsten Allan represents the females on the list as she bowled one while competing against the men. She had previous perfect experience, but is the only woman in Starlite history to have achieved the Holy Grail.

Among those who have bowled a 300 this year is McPherson High coach Herb Halinski, who has churned out so many 300s in his lifetime that he’s probably lost track. But he’s always told me no matter how many he bowls, it’s always a thrill.

For Starlite owner Cliff Hutts, the 300 revolution makes him smile. He likes his bowlers to be happy and big scores brings bowlers back wanting more.

“I have to credit our new lane man (Marty Fields),” said Hutts, who has built Starlite into one of the premier bowling houses in Kansas. “He worked at Derby Lanes last year. He’s very, very good on lane conditioning. He’s done just an excellent job."

Hutts said he pointed out to Fields recently that scores have been soaring, leading some to speculate that the lanes have been doctored to produce inflated numbers.

“He says they’re not high enough,” Hutts chuckled. “He said the conditions are legal and the scores should continue like this. Sometimes we used to tell the bowlers in the earlier years that you’re only as good as we make you because we can condition the lanes advantageous to the bowlers. I don’t think that’s true anymore. That (lane) machine is so set up and computerized that you can condition the lanes, but you don’t want to change it after you find the right solution. After you find the setting you like, why change it?”

Hutts says in addition to Fields having the lanes consistently in pristine condition, he says the other credit has to go to his bowlers. For a town McPherson’s size (and the bowlers that come from out of town), Hutts would put up the talent level here against any from a town of comparable size.

“I think Starlite has always been known for high scores and good bowling,” Hutts said. “We show that every year. When these guys go out to tournaments, they are very good out there.”

The 300 game often is equated to a golfer making a hole-in-one, but Hutts believes the bowler’s accomplishment is much more difficult than the golfer’s.

“If you stand up there for a 300 game, you feel the pressure after every single ball as it builds and builds on you as you get closer,” he said. “A hole-in-one just happens. That 300 game, even for the ones that have had more than one, I still think they feel the pressure. I used to watch how tight they (a bowler getting close to a 300) got in their back end. And everybody stops bowling around you. It puts a lot of pressure on you.”

Hutts is particularly proud of how many McPherson bowlers got their start in the youth league under Wann and are now regulars in league play. There are 16 leagues that regularly bowl during the week, some of them more competitive than others as Starlite caters to bowlers of all skill levels. The Wendy’s Classic League on Thursdays brings together what Hutts calls “the cream.” That league bowls four-game series and it’s not a surprise when the 1,000 series (250 average) is achieved, not to mention many of the 300s. It’s the best of the best.

Hutts said the age-old myth at Starlite Lanes that conditions are more conducive for left-handers than right-handers has basically been disproved. 

“I’ve been in the bowling business for 43 years and I’ve heard that every year for all of those years,” he said. “That’s not true anymore. Just look at the scores. There’s left-handers who have had more than one (300), but there’s right-handers galore who also have had more than one.”

There was a time on the men’s side that reaching the 200 season-average barrier was like hitting .400 in baseball or carrying a 0 handicap in golf. It was so rare, but now averaging a 200 for a season might not even get a sniff of the Top 10. The bowlers, conditions and equipment seem to get better and better and it takes a 210 or 215 just to have chance.

Hutts says he’s thankful that he has such a good rapport with his faithful bowlers, as few towns McPherson’s size has as many leagues and they also are active in tournament play. 

He’s also proud of the fact that he helped start the McPherson High bowling program, which originated in 2008. Because of Wann’s loyalty to her young bowlers, they arrive at high school well-schooled and that’s reflected in the fact MHS already has won a a state championship both on the boys and girls side, as well as produced a state champion in Quinten Sloup, which came in the very first year.

Clayton Ouellette, whose high school career begins this season as he’s a freshman, is among those who has bowled a 300 this season. Hutts said it will be interesting to see how his high school career progresses.

Hutts is hoping the McPherson public will come out to the Bullpups’ home meets this year as he believes they deserve the same support other teams receive. Home matches can be festive as often there are bowlers who make runs at 300s or other very high games.

“We’d like to get more parents out here watching the kids. It’s exciting,” he said.

Here is the 300 list for the 2014-15 season to date:

• Beau Peterson — 3

• Nic Rawson — 2

• Lanse Small — 2

• Herb Halinski

• Ryan Morse

• Lane Peterson

• Jacob Stapleton

• Skip Wilson

• Bob Small

• Clayton Ouellette

• Kirsten Allan