In 2007, Kristal Scott Wilson’s performance in the United States Bowling Congress Queens tournament was broadcast on ESPN.
In a clip that aired, Scott Wilson lifts her ball, wipes it with a towel, closes her eyes and kisses the ball. She studies the pins and hurls the ball, letting it teeter close to the lip, the edge precariously near the gutter. The ball rockets down the lane. Every pin comes crashing down. A moment later, she does it again. In both scenes, Scott Wilson never cracks a smile. She never furrows her brow. Her face is calm, collected, the look of a deeply focused athlete.
Scott Wilson is a former professional bowler who now works at Jayhawk Bowling Supply, 355 Iowa. She’s involved in product production, paperwork and customer service for Jayhawk Bowling, a company that supplies equipment to 67 countries.
“(The equipment) they use to drill balls, or fit your hand to a ball, or to work out a thumb hole or anything, we make that equipment to go into pro shops,” says Scott Wilson.
Bowling is an integral part of Scott Wilson’s identity. She started bowling at age 3. Her grandfather, Bill Gombos, taught her the sport, an act that would propel her toward a noteworthy professional path.
Scott Wilson was 12 when she started studying the game: practicing spares, learning to read the lane, focusing on her technique. By 15, she was spending ample time at the bowling alley. After school, she would rush over and practice for an hour or two. When league teams came in and swooped up the lanes, she would wait until 9:30 p.m, when they finished and begin again. She would play until late, though she had school in the morning.
Scott Wilson’s grandfather helped her train.
“He taught me how to read the lane,” Scott Wilson says. “A lot of people relate it like a golf course. You know how on a golf course, you can see the sand traps, and you can see the trees? Bowling is kind of the same — there’s (oil) on the lane, only you can’t see it.”
At 17, Scott Wilson’s skill earned her a spot on the United States Junior Olympic team. It was the first year for the elite program. She was on the team for three years, then at 19 she won a spot on Adult Team USA. At a major tournament, she finished third in the world among more than 65 countries.
Scott Wilson attended Wichita State University on a bowling scholarship.
After college, Scott Wilson continued to bowl in at least two major tournaments each year — the Queens tournament and the U.S. Open — and she still participates annually. She has a sponsor, Columbia 300, that pays for all of her bowling gear, and in 2009 she served as bowling coach at Baker University.
“I loved passing my experience of the game to other bowlers,” she says.
Scott Wilson married another bowler, Russ, who also works at Jayhawk Pro Bowling. They bowl together in a league, and their daughter, Leah, bowled her first game at 18 months.
“She’s been in a bowling alley since she was a week old,” Scott Wilson says.
Because there’s a lack of sponsorship for women’s professional bowling in America, a career in the sport was unsustainable. But Scott Wilson found a job that was still connected to bowling, though in a different way.
“Even though I can’t bowl, it’s the other side of bowling. It’s how I get my balls,” she says. “It’s great because I love bowling.”