Mullen reaches perfection for a fifth time


At 5 years old, Josh Mullen would roam the lanes at Park Bowl, tethered to his grandmother, Joan Rayborn.

He would watch from a distance, examining the more experienced bowlers. They would raise the ball with eloquence, letting the ball's weight carry itself forward all the while gliding across the finished hardwood like an ice skater.

The grips of bowling had him.

"I just realized that is what I was going to do for a sport throughout my life," Mullen said in a phone interview. "I just had one of those feelings that I could go somewhere with it."

And he has.

Mullen, now 19, bowled his fifth 300 - a perfect score in bowling - on Friday, July 19, in the AAU National Youth Championship Tournament in Warren, Mich.

Such a feat is best relatable to a pitcher in baseball throwing a no-hitter, Mullen said. As each strike inches a bowler closer and closer to it, those around him make sure to abide by bowling etiquette and refrain from bringing it up in conversation.

One guy, though, broke that unspoken rule after Mullen bowled a strike in the fifth frame.

"One of the volunteers in the fifth frame came down to make a score correction on our pair, and he was joking around saying, 'oh, you have five in a row. I told you you were going to shoot 300 this game,'" Mullen said. "When he walked away, I looked at the second oldest teammate and I said, 'Oh my gosh, he just jinxed me.' That is the worst thing you could ever say to a bowler, especially that early in a game."

Despite the dark cloud cast by the volunteer, the strikes kept coming.

But since Mullen had been in this situation before, moving closer and closer to the perfect 300, he knew what to expect.

Some frames late, he said, pose particular challenges.

His biggest obstacle, he said, has always been the 11th frame.

"The 11th one, out of my first four, has always been the most nervous to me," he said. "I got up there, and my knees were shaking, my hands were shaking, and I just said, 'Calm down, you just threw the last 10 perfect, take a deep breath and throw this one good.'"

Strike. On to the 12th frame.

"The 12th one, 'you just threw the last 11, don't even worry about it, don't think about anything else and just go,'" he said to himself.

The ball felt good, slicing up and curving down in perfect harmony to seal his fifth 300, he said.

Among the crowd of those congratulating and high-fiving him, he realized that of all the 300s he had now bowled, this was the first one his father had ever had the chance to see in person.

"That was pretty special," he said. "It was a good feeling."

No matter what, though, nothing comes close to that first one. The one everything else is compared to, and Mullen remembers that one as if it were yesterday. Even down to the exact date: Nov. 5, 2010.

He had a miserable first two games, bowling consecutive rounds 150, well below his average score of 200.

Disappointment was the feeling at the time for Mullen, meaning of course that a change in lanes would bring about better fortunes.

Turns out, sometimes it is in fact the tool and not the carpenter.

"By the 12th one, I threw the ball and everybody had stopped bowling and was just watching," he said. "I threw the last one and just knew it was a strike out of the hand.

"I turned around, and I was extremely happy and I sprinted up to my mom, who was crying, and hugged my mom."

One achievement remains uncompleted for Mullen, though.

The woman who first grabbed him as a 5-year-old and brought him to the bowling alley to help set up chairs for the weekend morning sessions has yet to see him bowl a 300.

His grandmother prods and asks questions after each one of his rounds, he said, but she still hasn't had the chance to see her grandson be perfect.

"That's next," he said.

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