The ball sailed down the lane, curving at just the right moment to grab the lane and explode into the pins. Nine consecutive times, Gregg Reed of Smithtown made his five-step approach and displayed his powerful stroke. And nine straight times, he ripped into those pins and left none standing.
Reed makes bowling look easy. The 6-1, 195-pounder set the all-time Long Island average mark for a single season at 233.89 this year. He's rolled three perfect games and a career-best 853 series, just three shy of the all-time record set by East Islip's John Kniereman.
Reed, a humble kid with a great sense of humor, finished his practice game yesterday morning with a 10th-frame spare and another strike for a 279. Then he sat down for an interview as all the kids in the Smithtown Youth Bowling Association giggled around him in awe of his outstanding talent.
"This is where I started at 5 years old with no bumpers, right here in Smithtown, just like all of these kids," said Reed, a 17-year-old senior and six-year starter for the Smithtown varsity. "I didn't own my own ball; my dad made me earn it by rolling a 450 series."
So began one of the greatest Long Island high school amateur bowling careers. Reed rolled his first 300 as a 13-year-old. He earned a spot on the varsity in seventh grade.
"He was a talent in the seventh grade," Smithtown coach John Vanek said. "He rolled a 236 in his first varsity game."
His averages through the years have been 184.33, 189.17, 215.47, 208.6, 219.97 and 233.89. He has had simply incredible numbers.
The roll through high school hasn't always been smooth, though. There were times when Reed thought he was done with bowling. His personal instructor for the past 12 years, Nick Attardi, a Pro Bowl tour member, remembers the difficulties and the daily grind.
"I saw something special in him at an early age," Attardi said. "He was never flashy, always keeping everything inside. And we almost broke it off [the training] when he was 12 years old because he wasn't being fair to himself by being focused."
As Reed matured, Attardi saw progress toward greatness. He watched as Reed learned how to change in a sport in which adaptation is necessary to stay on top.
"We've had training sessions where we don't bowl," Attardi said. "We shut the lanes down and we just talk. This game is mental. There are so many facets to understanding the game, the different lane surfaces and conditions that change with the humidity and the oil on the lanes. And then there's the failure when it's not working and we have to find a solution. There's so much to understand."
Reed, who said he battled weight problems throughout his youth, almost quit bowling in 10th grade. He'd endured years of teasing from classmates and peers because of the excessive weight. His body, once as heavy as 285 pounds, was changing quickly. The healthier, leaner Reed started to struggle on the lanes and became frustrated. He considered switching sports.
"He was a heavy kid who was comfortable in his body and bowling very well," Attardi said. "The weight loss changed everything in his motion. So he had to adapt to his body."
Reed laughed when he said 285 pounds. "Look at me now," he said with a smile. "I was going to switch sports and everything. But coach Nick helped me understand what I was going through. He's like another father figure in my life."
Attardi has helped Reed control his emotions. Hitting the ball return after a bad shot is a thing of the past. Reed is grasping a better mental approach.
Reed has been the anchor of the Smithtown varsity since the ninth grade. According to Vanek, he's grown into a real leader, very supportive of younger teammates. Smithtown has risen as the top contender in Suffolk heading into the county tournament at Sayville Lanes next weekend.
"I always told him playing in an old brick house like Smithtown would only make him a better player," Attardi said. "He's a power stroker, very versatile and able to adapt to any situation."
Added Reed, "When you get better, the game gets harder."