The doctors who told Anthony Fiorenzo he would not bowl the high school state championships due to injuries sustained in a car accident in February 2010 likely had delivered the same sad news to many high school athletes over the years. But this was the first time they said it to Anthony Fiorenzo and, as they soon would learn, this was no ordinary kid.
That’s the thing about driving in the snow in Fiorenzo’s native Wall, N.J.—cars tend not to stop as easily on ice as they do on dry streets. Fiorenzo stopped at a stop sign that night and by the time he discovered that his car had continued sliding into the intersection, he had been t-boned by one driver and then hit by another who promptly drove off.
In an instant, an entire season of anchoring the Wall High School bowling team toward the state championships had fallen victim to a chance collision on those snowy Jersey streets. Or so his doctors thought.
“That was a very emotional week,” recalls Fiorenzo, now a freshman at Calumet College of St. Joseph who will bowl the men’s USBC Intercollegiate Singles Championships finals May 11 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. “The doctors said I might have a concussion and some nerve damage in my arm, and they told me I couldn’t bowl states.”
To a kid who bowled all year for the chance at a state title, that news hurt more than any pain he may have felt in his body. But the hurt would not last long; it never does, so long as Fiorenzo has anything to say about it.
“I was very eager to try and get back out there, because the team finals weren’t for a few weeks,” he recalls. “So with enough work and proving to doctors I was good enough to go, they let me bowl team finals that year.”
That is the kid Calumet head coach Mike Kubacki, who recruited Fiorenzo out of the 2010 USBC North Pointe Junior Gold tournament in Indianapolis, would come to know the following year. Sure, Fiorenzo was a talented kid. With a little work, he might turn out to be much more than that. But the Anthony Fiorenzo who would impress Kubacki the most was the one who does not know the concept of just “a little” work.
“He was probably in the weight room more than any player on the team this season,” Kubacki says. “Even my athletic director commented about how much he saw Anthony in the weight room. I think there is a direct correlation between the amount of time he spent on fitness and the rapid improvement in his game this year.”
At Wall High School, Fiorenzo was the anchor with nothing left to prove; at Calumet, he was a kid from 800 miles away who had yet to prove anything and would have to fight just for a seat on the bench.
“He wasn’t even on the starting team early in the year,” Kubacki says.
But Kubacki soon saw the same thing those doctors back in Jersey saw—a kid who does not let anyone tell him he can’t.
“I think he likes the idea of being the underdog,” says Fiorenzo’s mother, Kim.
The role of the underdog may have suited Fiorenzo well back home; but this was college bowling, an environment in which it takes a lot more than a doctor’s note to get what you want.
“I think it’s safe to say that after the first month, he was ready to go home,” Kubacki says. “I don’t think he was happy with his game. He came into the season a little in awe of some of the talent in our program, and I think he wasn’t used to having a coach that would hold him accountable when he didn’t do something.
“But then he took a lot of matters into his own hands. He realized that if you take care of your body, it pays dividends. If you take care of your equipment, it pays dividends. And as he bowled better, he saw the rewards with playing time. He worked his butt off, that’s for sure.”
Fiorenzo gave people good reason to wonder if he would make it through his first month at Calumet, let alone the entire season.
“When I first got to Indiana, I got lost and it took my teammates four hours to find me sitting by Lake Michigan at 11 p.m.,” Fiorenzo recalls. “I don’t mind saying it was a bit scary.”
The next thing Fiorenzo’s teammates did for him was paste his picture on the side of a milk carton with the inscription “Have you seen me? Call 1-800-LOST.”
“They would have the milk carton out when he showed up for practice,” Kubacki recalls. “It was a really funny way of warming him up to his teammates.”
Kubacki may have found Fiorenzo a bit intimidated by the talent of some of those teammates early on. But it was Fiorenzo, and not any of those other players, who stood with ball in hand and the chance to make the Intercollegiate Singles Championships TV show with a double in the 10th frame against Webber International’s Marcelo Suartz.
“That’s the situation all college bowlers dream of,” Fiorenzo says. “The chance to step up and make a great shot to win a match.”
Any number of things might have passed through Fiorenzo’s mind in that moment. Maybe he thought of the time back in sectionals when Kubacki had to take him out of the lineup after a few tough frames. Maybe he chuckled to himself about his unlikely journey as an unknown kid coming off the bench to a kid who soon would be bowling for a title on national TV.
Whatever went through his head in that moment, it worked. Fiorenzo packed the first shot, then packed the next as if he was just bowling another game of Saturday morning league back in Jersey. Needing only five pins on the fill ball, he packed a third strike for good measure.
“It’s incredible,” Fiorenzo says as he reflects on that clutch moment to make the show. “I can’t even get over it. This has been an amazing season bowling with my team. I have made some great friendships and created some great memories already in just one season. I felt those shots were not just important for me, but also for my team and my school, to show what we can do and what this program does for its bowlers.”
The road Fiorenzo took from the days when his face was pasted on a milk carton to the moment his face will appear on national TV is one paved with struggle and the hard work it took to overcome it. If his meteoric rise from a spot on the bench to a spot on TV is any indication, that is the only road he will ever need.