ARLINGTON, Texas - With a record number of participants, huge scholarships on the line and a new format, the 2012 North Pointe Junior Gold Championships presented by Brunswick are poised to become the most memorable in the event's 15-year history.
The event begins Monday in Indianapolis with more than 2,100 United States Bowling Congress youth members eligible to participate. The bowlers will compete for a record $250,000 in scholarships and spots on Junior Team USA.
Among the participants will be defending girls champion Natalie Jimenez of Rowland Heights, Calif., who competes collegiately at Central Missouri. Last year's boys champion, Gary Faulkner of Memphis, Tenn., won't be back to defend his title because of age requirements.
Jimenez said she realizes the tough road ahead to claiming another crown.
"It's almost unrealistic to think about repeating as champion because of the size of the field and the amount of talent," Jimenez said. "Bowling is such an evolving sport, and we all know that anybody can win on any given day. Only two ladies have had the talent to repeat at this tournament - Shannon Pluhowsky and Stefanie Nation - and it's been more than six years since that has happened. But I'm always up for a challenge."
For Jimenez, it will be her eighth appearance at the Junior Gold Championships and this one will be memorable not only because she is the defending champion but because it is where she got her start bowling the event.
"It's extremely bittersweet because the first time I bowled Junior Gold it was hosted in Indianapolis," Jimenez said. "My sister's last Junior Gold was in Indianapolis and now my last Junior Gold will be there. I feel like my youth career has gone full circle by starting and ending in Indy, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
It will be a different road to the title in 2012 for Jimenez. The USBC Junior Gold Championships and the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America North Pointe High School Championships have merged for 2012, which has prompted a format change and age divisions.
The competition will begin with 15 games of qualifying from July 16-18 for all participants. One out of every seven bowlers will advance to the next round, where an additional five games will be bowled July 19. After 20 games, as many as 64 bowlers in each division will advance to five final qualifying games the evening of July 19 before the field is cut to the top 16 in each division for the double-elimination match-play bracket July 20.
Bowlers will compete in four divisions - 20-and-under boys and girls, and 15-and-under boys and girls - and the format will be the same for each division for the entire tournament. In bracket play, matches will consist of two games with the highest pinfall advancing.
BOWL.com's BowlTV will have free live streaming of the event starting July 19 at 8 a.m. Eastern and continuing until the champions are crowned the afternoon of July 20.
Automatic Junior Team USA spots will be awarded to the top two boys and top two girls in the 20-and-under division after 25 games of qualifying. Additional automatic spots will be given to the winner and runner-up after bracket play in the 20-and-under division. If one or both of the finalists in the bracket already earned a spot through qualifying, the automatic spot becomes an at-large selection.
The National Selection Committee will select two boys and two girls from the match-play field, with all bowlers, including 15 and under, eligible for at-large selection. The final eight spots - four boys and four girls - on Junior Team USA will continue to be determined at the USBC Team USA Trials.
The Junior Gold Championships has a history that dates back to 1998, when the event was held at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev. That event drew 538 participants.
This year's event has sold 2,102 spots, shattering the previous record of 1,980 set in 2009, also in Indianapolis. Last year's Junior Gold Championships had 1,821 entries.
USBC YOUTH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIPS UNDERWAY
The United States Bowling Congress Youth Open Championships got underway Thursday at Expo Bowl in Indianapolis. The event runs July 12-14, 19-23 and 27-28.
The non-qualifying tournament is patterned after the USBC Open Championships and USBC Women's Championships. Youth bowlers compete in team (four players), doubles, singles and all-events.
The tournament, which will award approximately an estimated $90,000 in scholarships this year, has four average-based divisions (129 and below, 130-159, 160-189 and 190 and above) so participants are matched according to skill, not age or gender. Scores are based on actual pinfall and one out of every five entrants in team, doubles and singles will receive scholarships, while one in six will receive scholarships in all-events.