HIGH SCHOOL REPORT
PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
James Pirtle beat Aiea's Shane Dagdag by 29 pins to win the Oahu Interscholastic Association individual championship.
OIA champ James Pirtle is bowling's answer to A.I.
James Pirtle is Allen Iverson.
Well, in his basketball-and-bowling-obsessed mind, Pirtle is a mini-version of "The Answer" on a different kind of hardwood.
Unlike the Philadelphia 76ers guard, the Pearl City sophomore has no aversion to practice. If anything, the Oahu Interscholastic Association boys bowling champion is manic about practice.
But this story begins long before, with the rise of a father.
In 1994, a local bowler won the prestigious High Rollers tournament in Las Vegas. John Pirtle, then 36, collected a $200,000 prize.
The feat capped a long stretch of amateur success.
"Think of it this way: He is so good, he hasn't bowled in three years, but he could come back here now, practice two games and destroy competition," James said. "His swing is so fluid, like a jump shot like Jordan. His game is like Jordan, where mine is Allen Iverson. Iverson looks like he's all over the place, but he gets the job done."
James' mother, Millie, and John introduced their son to bowling shortly after he learned to walk. Back then, the alley in Ewa had no bumper lanes for kids. Millie was an assistant to the manager there. John ran the pro shop.
"I used to sit there and watch Kikaida all day," James said of the now-gone alley. "It was a cutthroat bowling alley where everybody came to play for money."
He didn't partake of such things, but quickly picked up skills.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN his parents escalated just as Pirtle carved out his niche as one of the best keglers among his peers. He was 9.
"My dad was having a hard time," Pirtle said. "They both argued a lot and just separated. They'd fight and he'd hold me and try to take me away so I wouldn't see anything.
Sitting down in the diner at Leeward Bowl, in the span of a few minutes, Pirtle's cell phone rings twice. The first call is from mom. The second is from dad, who has lived in Las Vegas since the divorce six years ago. It is a mixture of satisfaction and independence that courses through Pirtle when his father calls. Last Saturday, after he won the OIA title, it was the son who called the father.
"He was happy and surprised. I guess still he thinks I'm a little kid," Pirtle said. "He didn't really teach me anything about bowling, though."
Pirtle learned much from watching pros like Pete Weber. By no coincidence, Pirtle is just as fiery.
Millie enjoyed her birthday on Sunday, one day after her only child won the OIA crown. She plays for fun, always has. James plays for the kill. When he nails 10 pins, his enthusiasm momentarily triggers the local Richter scale. His coach at Pearl City, James Hayashi, winces when Pirtle has an emotional tangent.
Mother has brought her son down to earth more than a few times.
"She said, 'Nobody likes cocky people or people who think they're big,' " Pirtle said of those talks since he was 9. "I was embarrassing her. When I'm on the lane, I get out my aggression. But off the lane, I don't anymore."
ON EACH LANE in every alley, there are 40 boards that stretch from the foul line to the pins. Not exactly parquet flooring of Boston Garden, but not a whole lot different, either.
"Each board is an inch thick, 60 feet from the approach to the pins," Pirtle said. "A bowling ball only touches a quarter-inch on the lane."
The key to consistent success is having an ability to change.
"Good bowlers don't have to touch every board. They can adjust to anything. Over here (Leeward Bowl), I touched 15 boards," he said.
Pirtle racked up a total of 1,300 pins in six games to win the OIA crown, outpointing Shane Dagdag of Aiea by 29 pins. Pirtle also tied a season high with a 258 game, which doesn't come close to his career high.
"It was on December 23, 2003 at Orleans Bowling Center in Las Vegas," Pirtle said of a 299 game.
He was 13.
MILLIE, WHO WORKS at the Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, pays for almost all of her son's bowling balls.
"I always say, 'Thanks Mom.' Really, I do," Pirtle said.
He won the OIA title with a Storm Paradigm ball, a 15-pounder.
"My dad bought this one," he said of the $147 gem.
For the state championship at Fort Shafter tomorrow and Friday, he'll switch to a Columbia EPX T1.
"On the shell of the ball, the cover shell is made of epoxy and particles that they use to grip more," he said. "That'll give me a better reaction on the oily surface at Fort Shafter. If you're good, you'll shine that day."
He placed 20th last year as a freshman.
"I just pray to my grandparents and to God to help me bowl a good game. I wanna be the best. I want to be as good as I can take it. I can only beat myself," he said.
Whatever happened six years ago, Pirtle let it go.
"It's not my problem. They're not bitter about anything, so it doesn't affect me," Pirtle said of his parents. "What I do with my life and what I want to become is not their say."
When John Pirtle left the islands, he gave James simple instructions.
"He said if I ever wanted to see him, just look for him in a window in the sky," Pirtle said of his father, who works in hotel security. "I used to send him letters. I love my father. That's my dad. We're good friends now."