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POA is TBE (The Best Ever) for coach Lynn Imbeau

A bowling coach for some 15 years now, Lynn Imbeau garners no greater appreciation for her role than when she enjoys the opportunity to guide an entry through to the Inter-Provincial (Pins over Average) National Championships.

And with the Whitewater Lanes/Northern Lights Bowling Centre (Elliot Lake) quartet of Becky Callaghan, Breigh-Ann Peddle, Steve Spencer and Larry Fitchett all making their very first appearance at a tournament of this magnitude, the feelings were absolutely reciprocal.

“A lot of the POA (Pins over Average) bowlers are newer bowlers, so they are easier to coach, because they listen to your instructions and try and follow everything you tell them,” said Imbeau, a Val Caron resident who has helped coach within the YBC (Youth Bowling Council), Special Olympics and 5-Pin Open ranks over the years, in addition to POA.

“I think it's more rewarding to coach a Pins over Average athlete, because they are learning and they're eager to progress and build up their game,” she continued. If nothing else, this particular Northern Ontario team entry, which has just finished competing in Saskatoon, represented a highly unique and extremely varied gathering of talent.

In a sense, the ladies defied the odds, with both Callaghan and Peddle dating their involvement with the sport back to their time as youth bowlers. Given several decades of bowling experience, one could assume that, over time, their averages tend to get cast in stone, making a large deviation from that norm quite unusual.

That's certainly the case for Callaghan, one of two Elliot Lake natives on the team, who opened the year with a 163 average, but has bumped it up slightly to 171 over the course of her run through zones and provincials, and on to the Canadian finals. Truthfully, it was a hot stretch at Northerns in Thunder Bay, producing an average of 194 on lanes that were the perfect fit for the 45 year old, that paved the way for Callaghan.

“I throw a straight ball and the synthetic lanes (in Thunder Bay) work really well for a straight ball,” she said. “If you throw a curve, it curves too much on synthetic.” Win or lose, Callaghan, like her teammates, was ready to take it all in on her western journey.

“I've never been anywhere before, I don't travel a lot,” she acknowledged. “I've never been to nationals, but have been to provincials four times in the past six to seven years.” It's a similar story for Peddle, who was born in Manitoba but moved to the Sudbury region while still quite young, raised in Azilda and a bowler since the age of four or five.

Hitting the lanes in September with an average of 153 (lower than usual, by her own admission), Peddle had surged her way up to 174 by the time nationals arrived, largely on the strength of a different mental approach in 2018-2019. “My focus is more on point this year than it has been in the past,” she said.

“And I'm taking a lot of pointers from fellow bowlers, and that's helped. I think I was more stubborn and hard-headed, not listening to tips that I had gotten in the past. This year, I've been more accepting of this, and it's helped.”

For their part, the gents represent the more traditional breakthrough in a pins over average competition.

At 51 years of age, Steve Spencer has been bowling for just five years. To suggest that things have clicked in nicely, this winter, would be a huge under-statement, as the well-known local youth hockey scorekeeper has seen his average jump more than 30% over the course of the past six months, from 135 to 177.

“The coach has shown me a different stance, and that's been working out quite a bit better than the way I bowled five years ago,” said Spencer. “It's just amazing.” Perhaps no team member better represents the excitement and appreciation for the experience at hand than Spencer, another life-long local resident.

“I'm looking forward to meeting new people, people from all over the country, and having fun – and trying my best to win,” he said. If Spencer is the voice of exuberance, then Larry Fitchett is the voice of experience. Having celebrated his 76th birthday, the former resident of Chatham, who moved to Elliot Lake a little over a year ago, endured perhaps the most interesting adjustment throughout this wild ride.

That comes part and parcel of being a life-long 10-pin bowler, the variety that is far more common in southwestern Ontario, and making the move to five-pin only upon his arrival in the great white north last year. “In ten pin, you have your thumb at one o'clock, and when you have finished and are letting go, your thumb is at twelve o'clock, and that gives it the hook,” said Fitchett.

“In five pin, I had a devil of a time trying to get rid of that hook.” Sitting with an average of 129, the talkative septuagenarian has fashioned a style that has served him well on his road to nationals. “You throw the ball over the same area and you don't muscle it, at least I don't, because the lane is more slick on synthetic than with the wood lanes.”

Four very different bowlers, but one consistent approach for coach Imbeau. “A coach needs to be part psychologist,” she said with a laugh. “We're not there to change the style of the bowler, but rather to enhance what they have. We're there to listen, to motivate and to encourage them with everything they do.”

Looks like the game plan worked reasonably well for the local foursome as the Northern Ontario “A” entry would finish in fifth place in a pool of nine teams, posting an overall aggregate team score over the course of eight games that would leave them counting 485 points over average. From a team perspective, highlights included big wins over Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

Individually, all four team members managed to exceed their averages, with total pin falls ranging from 105 to 144, with the elder statesman of the group (Fitchett) leading the way. Impressive single game scores were recorded by Spencer (296), Callaghan (266), Peddle (238) and Fitchett (220).

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