BHS senior is having fun, and success, at the bowling alley.
Chad Heckenberg wasn't quote sure what he was getting himself into when he decided to go out for the bowling team a year ago.
Heckenberg, who had never bowled competitively, was in for a pleasant surprise.
The Burlington High School senior recently rolled a career-best 245 game, placing second individually at the Lancer Invitational in Eldridge.
And Heckenberg has helped the Grayhounds to a 4-3 record this season, one of their best seasons ever.
Heckenberg is on a roll as the season winds toward districts and he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
"Winning the meets shows us we can do it and gives us a drive to bring more effort to the sport," said Heckenberg, The Hawk Eye's Prep Athlete of the Week. "The season is going pretty well for me. I've been throwing some pretty good games here and there. I've been keeping up with my average, which is one thing that I like to do. Together as a team we've been more successful in tournaments and we've been winning a lot of meets."
"Chad is doing pretty well. He couldn't bowl in the first half because of some grades issues. But once he got those straightened away he's been a key point to our team this year," BHS bowling coach J.R. Taylor said. "He is probably averaging a 175 or 180, somewhere in there. That's pretty good for this team."
Heckenberg, who also plays baseball and tennis for the Grayhounds, contemplated going out for the bowling team as a sophomore, but felt he wasn't ready. After a year of practice and finally joining a youth league on the weekends, Heckenberg went out for the BHS team a year ago. After a year on the junior varsity team, Heckenberg went back to work on his game in the offseason, this time in earnest.
"I started last year. I was supposed to play my sophomore year, but I had never tried it and then I practiced a little bit and came out last year. It was a lot of fun. I got into a league and that gave me more chances to practice and make my game better," Heckenberg said. "I do the Youth League out here at FunCity on Tuesdays. It helped me with keeping more relaxed. It helps me with my footwork, hitting my marks.
"I taught myself. I watched Youtube videos and I watched my favorite bowler, Jason Belmonte. He throws two-handed and I throw two-handed. That encouraged me. I tried it and I really like it, so I just kept doing it."
"We go three times a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when we don't have meets. Some weeks it might be twice a week," Taylor said. "Basic skills. For the lower skilled ones we are working on our foot work, release, follow through. All the stuff it takes to be a decent bowler. With the more experienced kids we are getting into talking about lane conditions. If I throw a ball here and it does something, what do I have to do to get my ball to go where I need it to go? Reading your ball and making adjustments from there."
Heckenberg's big breakthrough came on Feb. 1 at the Lancer Invitational in Eldridge. He opened with a career-best 245 game, then followed that with a 192 for a 437 series, finishing just 10 pins behind winner Carter Hudson of Clinton.
It was just the boost of confidence Heckenberg needed and the shot in the arm the Grayhounds wanted.
"I was proud of myself because I've really worked at trying to become better at the sport," Heckenberg said. "My first game I got that 245. I was just playing the game. I was just hitting my mark and playing the game. I was picking up spares when I needed to. Spares are really critical in this sport. I was looking up at the scoreboard, but I wasn't really paying attention to it because I didn't want to make myself nervous about trying to get a really good game. I was just trying to have some fun."
"He had a 245 and a 197 that day. That was real good. Hopefully some of these younger kids see Chad bowling like that and some of our other bowlers bowling the way they are and they will want to come out and be a part of this," Taylor said. "We're having a pretty good season from moving from the MAC to the SEC. The boys are 4-3 and the girls are 4-3. The girls didn't win any last year and the boys only won one meet last year. We're getting better."
Heckenberg is down to his final few bowling meets, then it's off to play tennis and baseball, the sport he has played the longest. After that, Heckenberg plans to enlist in the Marines.
No matter what, Heckenberg vows to keep playing bowling, a game he can play the rest of his life.
"I can play the game for longer and learn more stuff. This is only my second year. I still have a lot to learn about the sport. It gives me more room to learn more and try more stuff," Heckenberg said. "I wish I would have come out earlier. I could have been even better right now. I didn't realize how much fun bowling is."