Cool under pressure

NEW PALESTINE — Aaron Pierson prefers to let the pins do his talking.

A lanky 15-year old with a shy smile and a humble demeanor, Pierson leaves you with the impression that if a conversation with him occurred outside of a bowling alley, you might never discover he’s one of Indiana’s premier prep bowlers.

But that’s the thing about the New Palestine star, who is a day away from his first state finals appearance: You won’t often find him outside a bowling alley.

For the past few years, five to six days a week, three to four hours a day, the Dragons sophomore is clogging up a lane somewhere, trying to raise his per-game average of 224, which has him ranked fifth in the state.

“He practices at least that often,” said his mom and New Palestine coach Cindy Pierson. Bowling alleys are his home away from home.

From the time he could hold a ball, Cindy said, Aaron has been knocking down pins.

Aaron’s love of bowling likely begins with her family, Cindy said. Everyone bowls. Her father, Aaron’s grandfather, has bowled more than 30 perfect games in his lifetime. His uncle has bowled several.

“My family owns a bowling alley over in Muncie,” she said. “A few of them coach at the high school down there, too.”

Aaron began to bowl competitively when he was 12. That was the age he went from knocking down pins to learning the art form behind it.

“I had my mom teach me everything,” Aaron said. “She took me to a pro shop and taught me about all the different kind of balls. … I learned about the different ways a lane can be oiled and how to throw it over the same arrow every time.”

Aaron hopes to eventually earn a scholarship to bowl in a college. Ideally, the sport will help finance his dream of getting into medicine.

Unlike plenty of others he has seen though, Aaron tries not to take it all too seriously. He said he still sees bowling as mostly an outlet for making friends and having a good time.

It’s funny, Cindy said, how much his laid-back personality off the lanes matches his in-game persona.

“A lot of these kids wants to be what they call big crankers,” Cindy said, explaining that many competitors Aaron’s age favor huge, gaudy hook shots because they look pretty. “Aaron is not like that. He’s just down and in. Real simple.”

A modest hook for a modest kid.

Aaron’s reserved demeanor has become somewhat of a running joke among his teammates, Cindy said, especially after he notched his first perfect game last April.

“If he was feeling nervous, he certainly didn’t show it. Right before his last shot, he came back to the table, took a drink of his Dr. Pepper, walked back up and threw his 12th strike. And all he did was this,” said Cindy, miming a pair of miniature fist pumps. “That was it.”

She laughed, but that is exactly the way she likes him to be. Though Cindy won’t take credit for teaching him to remain composed — saying he was born with “nerves of steel” — she said she thinks his calmness gives him a competitive advantage over some of his more animated opponents.

They are both hoping that rings true Saturday, when Aaron makes his first bid at a state title at Cooper’s Sport Bowl in Anderson.

Being ranked fifth, Aaron will enter as one of the presumed favorites, but he knows anything can happen once the lanes open up.

The shot, or oil pattern, on the lane, Aaron said, could favor a different style of bowler, which could lower his score by 200 or more pins through a three-game series.

He also could just have an off day, a scenario he is prepared for but one he is trying not to let creep into his mind.

“Winning it all would be awesome,” Aaron said. “Obviously that’s what I want to do. But my goal for Saturday is just to finish in the top four or five. … If I did that, I think I’d be pretty happy. And if I don’t, it would be pretty disappointing, but I’ll know that I still have two years left to try again.”

If you go

The Greenfield-Central boys bowling team and New Palestine bowler Aaron Pierson will both make their first-ever trips to the Indiana High School Bowling State Finals. 

When: 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Cooper’s Sport Bowl in Anderson

Who: The Cougars are one of 12 boys teams in the State Finals. Pierson is one of 24 boys competing for the individual crown. 

Team Favorite: Center Grove — Single game average of 1,073 leads the state; the Cougars were in the top 10 much of the year, and currently average 943 as a team. 

Individual Favorite: Brandon Keppel (Northfield) — Single game average of 233; Pierson averages 224.