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As everyone is no doubt aware, the 1999-2000 bowling season is about to roll out in leagues across the U.S. Larry Wallace, the head pin of a local bowling dynasty, has been awaiting its arrival for a while. Now, for the first time, he’ll have sons Barry and Ricky on his side.
You could say the Wallaces make the perfect bowling family. Larry, 51, has rolled a 300 game—a perfect game, in pinhead parlance—11 different times. Ricky, 29, has notched an amazing 15 perfect games. And 28-year-old Barry, well, he has four 300 rings. Since pinfall is one way the Wallace men judge each other, Barry thinks himself the black sheep of the bunch.
“I’m still chasing those guys,” Barry says, pointing to his kinfolk/teammates inside Bowl America-Bull Run, where you’ll be able to find them for the next 34 Mondays in a row. “It’s been that way my whole life.”
Just as every golfer thinks hole-in-one in the tee box on every par-3, bowlers go into the first frame pondering the sort of perfection that visits the Wallaces with miraculous regularity. And, as in golf, technology has cheapened excellence in bowling. But, although advances such as urethane balls and reactive resins have hiked up average scores, 12 strikes still won’t come without a fight. So it’s rare for one house league to boast so many perfectos, let alone one family.
“As far as we know, we’ve never had anybody like the Wallaces, as far as perfect games go,” says Ray Brothers, executive director of the Nation’s Capital Area Bowling Association. “They’re the best we’ve got.”
Brothers appreciates the Wallaces’ collective accomplishment. He’s been in bowling for 40 years, and he even coached the sport for a time. He’s never rolled a 300, though not for lack of desire.
“Oh, yeah, I want one,” Brothers says. “But every time I ever got close, I short-circuited. I don’t think it’s going to happen for me. It’s all nerves.”
Larry Wallace started hanging out at the lanes while growing up in Nebraska and got serious about his bowling after signing on with the Air Force and bouncing from post to post around the globe. (His military resume includes references to high average in the European Bowling Theatre in 1974-1975, plus wins in the 1974 Swiss Open and 1975 Nuremberg Open.) Wherever he was based, Larry made sure his sons had a place to bowl.
When he left the service after 20 years, he settled in Northern Virginia and took a brief stab at the Pro Bowlers Association tour. Though his time on the circuit didn’t go as smoothly as he had hoped, the kids took away some moments from that period. Perfect moments.
“I remember being at some alley in Chattanooga when Pops was in a PBA tournament,” says Barry, now a meat-cutter for Giant Food. “I had been chasing some girl around all day. Then I look up at the board and see that he’s got about eight strikes in a row, and I hear people are talking, like, ‘That guy’s going to get a perfect game!’ So I had to stop chasing her and start watching him.” Pops didn’t disappoint.
After giving up on the tour, Larry took a job managing the pro shop at Bowl America-Woodbridge and started bowling in the same local leagues as his sons, though on different teams. It didn’t take long for the boys to show the old man they’d been watching his work. Ricky had barely turned 17 when he bowled a 300 game. You never forget your first.
“Oh, that was a big deal for me, a huge deal,” says Ricky, now also employed by Giant Food. “Getting that last strike, standing there, I remember just being nervous. But after that first one, it got a whole lot easier.”
Perfection eluded Barry a little longer. He was 23 before he finally rolled the strike that brought him to 300. And when he did, his dad had to jump in to keep things perfect.
“I got all emotional,” he says. “I’d watched Pops get [a perfect game] a long time ago, and Ricky already had done it, and now this was my turn, and there was just a lot of emotion for me. So I fell to my knees, and when I went down [my dad] ran up and pulled me back, because he thought I was going to fall past the foul line and ruin everything. That would have been something. But you gotta understand, I’d been bowling since I was 6, and I always just wanted to be as good as those guys. It’s still a thrill to beat ’em.”
The very same edge that made Barry so eager to match his brother and father helped keep the Wallaces apart whenever it came time to sign up for teams.
“The brothers are just real competitive with each other,” says Larry. “So it would always end up that I’d bowl with Barry on one team and then with Ricky on another, and we’d be in the same leagues a lot, but we never would all get together, much as I always wanted to. But that’s the way brothers can get.”
The siblings took their rivalry to new heights on Opening Night last year. Bowling at Bowl America-Bull Run with his dad’s team, Barry rolled a 300 right out of the box. And Ricky, rolling on the other side of the house for another squad, matched him pin for pin.
The family went on to have quite a season: Larry rolled another perfect game and finished up with a league-leading 229 average—a figure almost good enough for the pro tour—and all three Wallaces rolled an 800 series (a total for three consecutive league games), a feat that occurs less frequently than even a perfect game.
Larry’s good fortune continued into the off-season. When he once again tried talking his boys into coming together, they both went for it, without giving any explanation for the change of heart.
Along with its emotional dividends, the Wallaces’ alliance comes with a competitive cost. To prevent supergroups from walking away with the championship, essentially all house leagues use a handicap system. The Wallaces all had monster averages last year (Barry had a 228, Ricky a 225), so their team has a zero handicap. That handicap came into play during their debut, when the scratch bowlers were forced to spot their unheralded opposition a full 70 pins per game. With the free pins, the collection of mortals walloped the mighty Wallaces three games in a row. But if the losing captain was the least bit disappointed with how the evening turned out, he wasn’t letting on.
“We didn’t bowl too well together,” said the father, “but tonight, I’m very happy. This is a really nice thing for me. Maybe there’s a problem with team chemistry right now, but this is just one night, and we’ve got a long, long season together to work it out. I still think you could call our team strong.”
That’s a perfect way to describe it.—Dave McKenna