Benson, Hayes named 2024 USBC Youth Ambassadors of the Year

ARLINGTON, Texas – Jersie Benson of Evansdale, Iowa, and Derek Hayes of Madison, Wisconsin, have been chosen by the International Bowling Campus Youth Committee as the 2024 United States Bowling Congress Youth Ambassadors of the Year.

The annual award recognizes one female and one male USBC Youth bowler for exemplary academic accomplishments, community involvement and contributions to the sport of bowling outside of league or tournament play.

Winners are chosen on submitted applications, and each will receive a $1,500 scholarship.
Benson, 19, is a shining example of someone who has used bowling as a companion to her outstanding work in the classroom and as a volunteer to become a person who is truly representative of the award.

Benson was caught a bit off guard when she was told she had won the award.

“Honestly, I couldn’t believe it when I was told I won,” Benson said. “I guess I wasn’t really expecting it at all. While the phone call was happening, my eyes just got bigger and bigger, and all I could think was that I had to call my dad and tell him. I was so excited.”

Benson is in her sophomore year at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where she is an English major preparing for a career as a librarian. Benson graduated from East Waterloo High School where she participated in the UNI-CUE Talent Search Program. The program’s mission is to encourage, inspire, challenge and support students in their efforts to achieve academic success with the goal of enrollment in a post-secondary educational institution.

Benson currently participates in the TRIO program at Luther College. The TRIO Achievement Program guides and encourages participants throughout their journey, helping to optimize the college experience while mitigating obstacles and celebrating successes along the way. Benson was one of five Luther students to be awarded the Karen Julesburg TRIO scholarship for the 2023-2024 school year.

Benson talked about her goal of becoming a librarian and why she feels that role is important in today’s society.

“I want there to be better representation of what libraries have to offer,” Benson said. “It’s not just the books; there are so many other resources that libraries feature. I think it’s important to keep those resources available to everyone, because there aren’t really other places like public libraries, and we need to protect them and help them grow.”

Benson was awarded the Dr. Andy Karantinos & Steve and Mildred Dress Scholarships through the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) District 14 for the 2023–2024 school year. The mission of AHEPA is to promote the ancient Hellenic ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family and individual excellence through community service and volunteerism. She is a Dean’s List student and received the President’s Award for Educational Excellence.

On the volunteer front, Benson has donated her time and talent to Hope City Church, Heartland Vineyard Church, the Cedar Bend Humane Society and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.

“I’ve worked on a lot of food drives for various organizations,” Benson said. “It’s a lot of fun working those, and I’ve seen the impact those food drives have. It’s a great feeling when your volunteer opportunity provides direct help to people.”

On the lanes, Benson was a four-year member of the girls’ bowling team in high school that won a pair of conference championships and finished in the top five in the state tournament (including one championship) during three of her four years. She is now a member of the inaugural women’s bowling team at Luther College, which just completed its first year of competition.

“This was the very first time having a women’s bowling team at Luther, so it was almost like a test run for the program,” Benson said. “It was really fun, and I met a lot of people that I would have never met here on campus if the team hadn’t been created, so I’m very grateful for that.”

And bowling also has served another purpose in her life.

“I’ve had some issues with anxiety, and that’s been one of the biggest roadblocks in my life,” Benson shared. “I think bowling has helped me because with anxiety comes self-isolation, and having that schedule of going to practice and bowling in tournaments has helped me be more social and has helped regulate that anxiety.”

Due to her dedication to her studies, hours of volunteer work and time spent bowling, winning the award carried a great deal of significance to Benson.

“It means a lot to me because I can’t really fathom sometimes how other people perceive me,” Benson said. “It’s just nice to be recognized for all my efforts.”  

Hayes, 15, is a sophomore at Verona Area High School who didn’t “get serious” about bowling until just two years ago. However, what he’s accomplished as an ambassador for the sport in that short amount of time is certainly notable, and it led to him winning this award.

“I was at a loss for words when I got the phone call and was being told that I won the award,” Hayes said. “I didn’t really know how to react, so I was just kind of sitting there. I think my mom thought that I was just brushing it off like nothing happened, but in reality, I was just stunned. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, and I feel so fortunate that I was chosen for this.”

Hayes got started in the sport when his friend, Connor Smith, asked him to join a Saturday morning junior league in 2020 just to have some fun. Then, in the summer of 2022, he switched to a two-handed style, took a lesson from his local pro shop owner and, through a lot of practice and hard work, improved his average from 116 to 185.

Hayes was hooked. As a freshman, he joined the bowling team at Verona Area High School and was named Freshman of the Year for his district. He also made an active decision to share his passion and love for the sport with others. He learned of a Special Olympics bowling program being run through his high school. Hayes became a volunteer for the program, coaching and socializing with the Special Olympians.

“So, starting last fall, every Tuesday after school we would go over to our local center – Ten Pin Alley – and spend an hour with the Special Olympians helping them with their bowling,” Hayes said. “It was a fun thing, but I also tried to give them as many tips as I could to help them improve their game. One of the people I was working with went to the Special Olympics state competition and won first place, so that was really cool.”

After his freshman year, the bowling program at his high school was in danger of being eliminated because one senior graduated, two others left the school and one player opted not to rejoin the team. Hayes and Smith took it upon themselves to take the necessary steps to make bowling a club sport at the school, which made it easier for them to recruit players and save the program. The 2023-2024 team had seven bowlers, all of whom were freshman and sophomores.

Even though he’s only been bowling competitively for a short time, Hayes has racked up some impressive accolades. During the 2022-2023 season, he won Rookie of the Year awards from both the Junior Bowlers Scholarship Tour and the Wisconsin Youth Bowling Tour.
He earned a $1,000 scholarship from Bowl4Life for an essay submission, was selected to represent Wisconsin for the Michigan Cup this summer and has back-to-back wins in the Greater Madison Area city tournament. He qualified for the Junior Gold Championships for the first time last year and qualified again for this year’s event in Detroit.

“Junior Gold last year was a great experience,” Hayes said. “I got to meet so many new people and developed friendships that I still have today. I met a bunch of pro bowlers and got autographs and pictures with them. I had a great time in Indianapolis last year, and I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of new people and having another great experience this year in Detroit.”

Outside of bowling, Hayes plays trumpet in his high school band and qualified for the state competition as a solo artist, with a brass quintet and with the jazz band, which also requires a lot of his time and attention.

“I try to keep up with my practicing for bowling, but it’s hard because I’ve got other stuff going on, especially with my music,” Hayes said. “It’s difficult to find the proper balance between music and bowling, plus my schoolwork, but I enjoy both a lot, so I’ve learned to make time for everything.”

In addition to his work with Special Olympians, Hayes has done volunteer work at a local food pantry and mentored middle school and incoming high school band members as well as fellow bowlers.

Hayes’ academic interests lie in the areas of both music and engineering, and he hopes to continue his bowling career into the future as well.

Benson and Hayes will be recognized later this month at the 2024 USBC Convention and Annual Meeting at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

For a list of past USBC Youth Ambassador winners, click here.

Learn more about awards for adult youth leaders and scholarship opportunities for youth bowlers at