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Archive for Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kilmer carves his own niche

February 14, 2006

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It's no surprise the ability to locate his breaking ball consistently in the zone and throw strikes comes easily for Olson Kilmer.

It's just that no one expected those attributes to shine through inside a bowling alley.

Baseball was supposed to be the sport where Kilmer, 17, made his mark as a high school athlete. The Lawrence High junior is the eldest son of former Kansas University pitching coach Wilson Kilmer, who served 15 years with the Jayhawks and helped shape a staff that led KU to its one and only College World Series appearance and sent numerous arms to the professional ranks.

So it figured his best pupil would be the one living under his own roof.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to stardom. After a year of high school competition, the younger Kilmer discovered his passion lacking on the diamond.

"I just didn't feel the want to play it any more," said Kilmer, who split time as a pitcher and a third baseman with the Lions as a sophomore. "I didn't feel the desire to go out and practice every day, like I do with bowling."

Such is the all-consuming allure of a new love.

As little as 18 months ago, bowling was as foreign to Kilmer as a life without baseball. With the exception of the occasional friend's birthday party, he never had set foot inside an alley.

No youth leagues. No bored-with-nothing-to-do-so-let's-go-wear-funky-shoes-and-knock-over-pins moments.

That changed the fall of his sophomore year during a "Lifetime Sports" class at LHS. Volleyball, basketball and pingpong were all OK. But when it came to bowling, he suddenly was hooked.

"We bowled for a week and half or two weeks," Kilmer said. "I just liked it and I kept coming back myself."

With the help of friends Brian Wyatt and "Rhino" Paige - a member of the U.S. national bowling team - Kilmer became a regular last summer at Royal Crest Lanes, honing his game. Relying on the same loose arm and mental toughness that help make a good pitcher, Kilmer didn't waste any time making great strides in his new athletic pursuit.

He immediately caught the eye of LHS bowling coach Greg Farley earlier this winter during tryouts for this year's team, and he now carries a 192 average as the No. 2 bowler in the Lions' lineup.

He's also helped convert his family into a bunch of pinheads.

Wilson Kilmer - now the owner and operator of Home Plate Baseball in Lawrence - adjusts his busy schedule this time of year to show up and grab a front-row seat for his son's matches, a pillar of support no matter the initial disappointment of hearing his son wouldn't follow in his athletic footsteps.

"It was definitely tough for my dad," Olson said. "I know he wasn't happy with it at first, but he's supported me with it, and hasn't been pushing me to try out (for baseball) again this year."

Mom Gwen, a dental hygienist, also is a devoted fan, and Tanner, an eighth-grader at South Junior High who has league experience, plans to join his big brother on the LHS team next season.

"It's been really good with my parents. They've been there 100 percent," Olson Kilmer said. "We even go bowling together. They get into it a little bit. My dad even broke 200 a couple of times now."

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