The Cassidy Schaub story: from a town of 500 to bowling’s big show

When locals crowded Ohio's Luray Lanes with laptops to follow Cassidy Schaub's progress game by game at the Lumber Liquidator's PBA Tour Trials in May, they saw the boy who once wiped the tables on which they opened their computers grow into the man who brought his small hometown of Polk a prestige reserved for cities you drive hours down I-71 to find-places like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus.

"I come from a town of 500 people," Schaub explains after surviving tour trials to earn a Lumber Liquidator's PBA Tour exemption for the 2009-2010 season. "We have one bowling center, a 24-lane center. I used to work there."

But owner Rick Cooke, whose father bought that single 24-lane center known as Luray Lanes in 1967, saw much more than just the story of a small town kid gone big time as the center swirled with news of Schaub's exemption.

Schaub's success called Cooke to wander his memory as the many episodes from which his former student's story emerged unfolded there once again. He saw a five-year-old Schaub cradling a ball off the racks with both arms, too small to handle a bowling ball any other way. He saw Schaub's grandfather bowling league there so long ago that LBJ had not yet left the White House. He saw the spray can with which he would oil the lanes for a teenage Schaub to get a taste of the sport Cooke knew all those years ago.

"I'd walk up the stairway in the back and drag out the spray can," Cooke remembers, "and I'd say ‘Now here's what I bowled on! Let's see how you do!' We'd spray it on, wipe the lanes, and just play with it."

But the memory Cooke relived most vividly the moment he learned that locals would be following Schaub on their laptops for a lot longer than five days of tour trials was the day he sat at his own wife's funeral, and how an epiphany he had there became yet another aspect of wisdom that a young Cassidy Schaub would confront far earlier in life than most people.

"I don't think I ever understood the game until my wife died," Cooke explains. "I was fortunate enough to win small things for our area when I bowled in tournaments around here, but I don't know that any of those accolades meant much when she passed away, and Cassidy understands the importance of everything rather than just the game. We all want to be good at the game, but Cassidy also has a very good understanding of what makes it relevant and important."

You come to understand a lot in a place like Polk, where everyone knows your name and the whole town functions as a kind of extended family, where everything you achieve in life is done as much for them as for yourself. And it is exactly that inherited spirit of accountability that brought Cassidy Schaub to Luray Lanes the day before he left town for tour trials in Detroit.

"He is just as good a man as he is a bowler," Cooke says. "The day before he left for Detroit he came in here and bowled with the seniors. He'll come in here and bowl with the juniors-it doesn't matter. That's the game to him."

As with any lesson worth learning, though, this one did not come easily.

"I was a hot head," Cassidy remembers of his days as a junior bowler with anger management issues, "I would kick stuff and throw stuff, it was bad. I guess it really set in one day when I punched a chair and my dad looked at me and said ‘What are you doing!' And I said ‘I am mad' and he said ‘Yeah, so? You don't have to act like an idiot!' When you do stuff like that it doesn't just reflect on you, but also on your family. You put your name out there and you don't want to embarrass your family by acting like an idiot."

As a two-time Team USA member and the first in his family to graduate from college, Cassidy, who averaged 258 in the first block of qualifying at the Pepsi Red, White and Blue Open this week, is not embarrassing anyone these days-least of all the larger "family" that showed up at Luray Lanes to celebrate his return from Team USA competition in 2007.

"I think we had 300 people show up here," Rick Cooke approximates.

"When I went out in 2007 and made Team USA, I came back and people were congratulating me-of course you know everybody in your town-it was a great feeling to come back and see that they're all behind you 100%," Schaub remembers. "There is no greater experience than to put ‘USA' on your back and go out and start striking, and knowing that what you're doing represents your hometown also. You really don't have to come from a big city to pursue your dream and achieve your goals."

"We take it very personally," Rick Cooke says as he chokes back the emotion that cracks his voice, struggling to explain what it feels like to watch the kid who cleaned the pinsetters at his center drape a gold medal around his neck with the name of the nation emblazoned across his back.

"That's a tough subject. He really is a part of everything here. Even people that don't know much about bowling come in here-we have pictures of him and his college shirt, his Team USA shirt in his own little window area. Everybody here thinks it's the greatest thing in the world. I could name almost 50 people that knew his scores at tour trials game by game."

But Cooke can probably count exactly zero people who foresaw that Cassidy would be handling a bowling ball in his 20s the same way he did at 5-with both hands. Like Jason Belmonte, the habits Schaub developed as a kid too small to throw the ball with one hand stuck over the years to position him as another poster boy for the hottest trend that bowling has seen since Mark Roth tore through the tour with little more than a plastic ball and a mangled thumb.

"By the time I was 11 or 12, my coach came down and said ‘You need to stop screwing around with this two-handed stuff,'" Cassidy recalls. "He was trying to help me with that, and every time he turned around I went back to the two-handed style."

"We chased him around here with a yard stick for three or four years," Rick Cooke explains of his attempts at encouraging Schaub to adopt a more traditional style, "but when he started beating me and his Dad, I said ‘I am not sure we need to be bothering him.'"

Schaub's determination despite the bewildered criticism of coaches underscores the ambition of a man willing to work as hard as it takes to achieve the greatness he craves.

"One time he came back from a tournament in Kentucky where he missed a 7-pin to lose the tournament, and for two hours he did nothing but shoot at the 7-pin," Cooke explains.

While it is probably safe to assume that the town of Polk was among the last locations on Chrissie Hynde's mind when she penned her anthemic "Ohio" with The Pretenders, Schaub's future with the Lumber Liquidator's PBA Tour makes it just as safe to assume that, for maybe just a Sunday afternoon or two this fall, a place called Polk might become as prominent a fixture on people's minds as the cities that rock stars sing about.

"This place would go nuts," Rick Cooke says of the possibility of watching his former student bowl under the hot lights of ESPN cameras some Sunday afternoon. "That'll be something to deal with."

If Cassidy's performance on Tuesday at the Pepsi Red, White and Blue Open is any indication, that is something Rick Cooke may have to deal with very soon.