Even at a young age, A.J. Chapman didn’t back down from a challenge.
At his father’s bowling alley — Lightning Lanes in Manchester — a 3-year old A.J. eschewed the lightest bowling balls in favor of a 10-pounder.
Though he outweighed the ball by a mere 20 pounds, he strode toward the lane and tossed the ball with both hands.
Jump ahead to his freshman year at West Delaware High School, and A.J. Chapman again faced a challenge. He had to choose between bowling and football. Despite the lure of the gridiron, Chapman chose bowling.
“A decision needed to be made as far as what is going to take me farther, what is going to take me through college,” he said. “That was the turning point. When I decided to focus on this one thing and get really good at it.”
Without question, Chapman chose wisely. Now a senior at Wichita State University, Chapman has bowled his way to a United States Bowling Congress National Championship, as well as a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
“There is a reputation for Wichita State producing very good bowlers,” Chapman said. “It’s plain and simple — they’re the best there is.”
Chapman has certainly helped contribute to the success of the Shockers program. He led the team with a 216.8 average over the 2015-16 season. He was named a first team All-American by the National Collegiate Bowling Coaches Association. He finished third at the 2016 USBC Amateur tournament.
“It’s cool to win individually,” Chapman said. “But to win as a team, you get to share it with a bunch of other guys. It’s so cool to represent something much bigger than yourself.”
For the past two years, Chapman has done just that. As part of USBC’s Team USA, he has taken on competitors from around the world.
“It’s been a lifelong dream to bowl for Team USA,” Chapman said. “Getting picked for PABCON and getting to represent my country with USA on my back is something that I know I’ll never forget.”
Starting Monday through Sept. 23, Chapman and Team USA will battle for medals in six events at the PABCON — or Pan American Bowling Confederation — Adult Championships in Cali, Colombia.
“I’ve only been out of the country two or three times,” Chapman said. “I’m really looking forward to getting to experience another culture.”
Chapman initially qualified with a third-place finish at trials in 2015, and kept his place on the team with a fifth-place finish in 2016. To get on the 12-person team, hundreds of bowlers roll 30 games over five days. Competitors are awarded points based on their daily finish, with the top four finishers qualifying automatically. After that, the last eight spots are filled based on a bowlers resume.
“The hardest part is actually getting on the team,” Chapman said. “It’s all in how you bowl that week. You have to bowl well at the right time. There are probably 100 guys good enough during qualifying to get on the team.”
Chapman is looking ahead to another challenge. He will wrap up his degree this fall and then pursue a professional bowling career. Though the task is daunting, Chapman is up for the challenge.
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“There is a difference between just being a card member of the PBA and being a professional bowler,” Chapman said. “It’s all about success in order to declare yourself a professional bowler.”