Sophomore Markis Smiley might not be the biggest kid at Rochester High School. But when it comes to bowling, he will be on the state's biggest stage this Saturday.
Smiley made the Indiana High School Bowling state finals by finishing sixth at the semistate singles competition at Chippewa Bowl in South Bend last Saturday. Mike Aulby's Arrowhead Bowl in Lafayette will host the state finals. Start time is 9 a.m.
He doesn't know what to expect.
"I just want to bowl my game," Smiley said. "Have fun, have a good time, not get frustrated. Whatever the outcome is, I still made it there, and I'm only a sophomore. I have two more years."
Smiley started bumper bowling when he was 5 or 6 years old, but he said he didn't become serious about the sport until he was an eighth-grader. Smiley, who plays tennis during the fall and golf during the spring, was looking for a winter sport to play.
He played basketball when he was younger, but he was less than five feet tall in the eighth grade. That's when he thought about his different sporting options.
A growth spurt has Smiley up to 5 feet 4 inches or 5 feet 5 inches tall now.
"Height is an advantage, but even if you're short, you can still be good," Smiley said of bowling. "So I don't know if I've set the bar out for being short, but from what coaches say, it's actually pretty funny because my coach always tells me, 'Hey, 12-year-old, get over here,' because everyone thinks I'm so young because freshman year, I was even smaller and scrawnier, and everyone thought, 'Is he really in high school?' To this day, they still do it. Freshman year, I was barely five foot. I've even grown, and they still think I'm 12."
Smiley described his style as between a "tweener" and a "cranker." He doesn't quite have the huge hook of a cranker but definitely isn't a "stroker" who plays close to the center arrows.
He said RHS coach Andy Pesaresi and assistant coaches Todd Kotterman and Mike Allman have helped hone his style.
"Andy's awesome," Smiley said. "He's like a dad to us. If we want to talk about something, he'll talk about it with us. He's pretty much like a teenager in an older body."
Smiley also said he watches YouTube videos in slow motion of Norm Duke, his favorite professional bowler. Duke, who has won 37 Professional Bowlers Association titles and earned more than $3 million in his career, stands only 5 feet 5 inches tall.
"He's not buff," Smiley said of Duke. "He's not huge. My shot's kind of like his. We kind of play the same arrows. And just how unique his shot is, he's just a great inspiration to younger bowlers."
In less than two years' time, Smiley made it to the fifth, or anchor, spot in RHS' five-man lineup. And along with teammates Mitch Allman, Kaisor Storey, Tanner Kotterman and Levi Brown, the Zebras won both the sectional and regional titles.
His personal high game is a 290, a spare in the first frame followed by 11 straight strikes. Smiley got strikes in his first four frames the following game for a streak of 15 in a row. His best score in a high school game is 267 against Warsaw earlier this year. He bowled a 607 series for three games at the semistate, finishing his three-game series with a 219.
Smiley still thinks of bowling as a team sport, even though he's all by himself now. He said that it's his teammates who help him keep a positive attitude in case he loses confidence. They'll be cheering him on Saturday. He's said it's harder bowling in singles competition than with a team because of how teammates can encourage or help a bowler who might be feeling down.
"To be a bowling team, you have to have the most chemistry possible," Smiley said.
Regardless of how he does, Saturday is the culmination of a two-year journey from the time he became serious about the sport to making the state finals.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet, but it's an awesome experience," Smiley said. "We went there last year as a team. ... It's just unbelievable what can happen when you put your mind to it," Smiley said.