Seth Sheffield

Seth Sheffield, a senior at The Villages High School, bowls at Fiesta Bowl in 2020. The Villages High School bowling team already has rolled its way to among the state’s top programs year in and year out.

No matter the age, those enjoying the sport of bowling in The Villages have found plenty of success. The community is home to an up-and-coming high school program and the state’s most talented contingent of senior bowlers. The Villages High School bowling program has existed for just six years, but already has three district titles — and a state final four appearance — to its credit. Bowlers representing The Villages under the Senior Games umbrella have more than held their own, with a dozen state record-holders — plus a former Florida Senior Games Female Athlete of the Year — residing in the community.

“I think having the mix that we do here is great for everyone involved within our bowling community,” said Larry Ducat, owner-proprietor of both Spanish Springs Lanes and Fiesta Bowl in The Villages. “I’m 72 and I know myself — and many people my age — love being around young people, especially young people in a bowling center.

“But then you factor in all the great senior bowlers and Senior Games competitors that we have here, too, and it makes for something really special when we’re that diverse in our customer base.”

Despite just a handful of years of competition, The Villages High School bowling team has already rolled its way to among the state’s top programs year in and year out.

The Buffalo have claimed three district titles — all coming consecutively from 2016-18 by the boys team — and an additional five times a VHS individual has qualified for the state tournament.

The 2017 boys squad was the most successful Buffalo bowling team to date, finishing fourth overall in the state after advancing to the semifinals of the 16-team statewide tournament.

“Like most of our sports that we start with, there was a high level of interest in (bowling) because of some of the talent level we’ve had right away,” said VHS athletic director Richard Pettus. “It’s a credit to our kids because they’ve had the interest and the passion, but then it’s also been the coaches we’ve had along the way buying into the program and doing what they can to make it even better.”

Both the VHS boys and girls teams are slated to compete in the 10-team Class 1A-District 4 this fall, which will be the first for Gary Sparks as head coach.

All home matches for the Buffalo bowling teams are played inside the 32-lane Fiesta Bowl, with residents serving as enthusiastic

spectators each year.

“When the high school teams bowl, there’s always a ton of seniors and residents in there watching them,” Ducat said. “They don’t have any children or grandchildren involved, but they love being there to support them.

In setting the table for the youngest wave of bowling stars, those representing the community in Senior Games competition have earned their own way among the state’s best.

Villages residents own 12 all-time scoring records at the Florida Senior Games, with pacesetters standing atop the heap in both individual and team competitions.

“Winning never gets old,” said Tom Fargis, of the Village of Calumet Grove, a three-time Senior Games gold medalist in bowling. “When you’re able to win a gold medal, especially when you’re bowling against capable bowlers from around the state, winning is very exciting.”

Bowlers are placed in divisions sorted by age and gender, with the top five finishers from qualifying sites — such as The Villages Senior Games — annually advancing to the statewide Florida Senior Games each year.

“It’s an extremely special event to be a part of,” said Luanne Giragosian, of the Village of Springdale, who won two golds and a silver at the 2019 Florida Senior Games. “You tend to pair up with someone that you have a friendship and bowling relationship with. So you end up rooting for that person even more than you’re rooting for yourself, and when you medal together it’s an extraordinary feeling.”

The Villages Senior Games are set to return April 16-24, 2022, with bowling expected to be one of the most anticipated events.

The 2019 local competition featured more than

120 entries for the bowling event, highlighted by Carol Teel, the Florida Senior Games Female Athlete of the Year in 2017.

The Village of Amelia resident owns five state records — two individual, one doubles and a team — while also carrying the distinction of being the only woman to roll a perfect game in the three-decade history of Florida Senior Games.

“It was something that I always hoped that I would be chosen for, but never really thought it would happen,” Teel said of her Athlete of the Year honor in 2017. “I do put in a lot of hard work, and over the years, you develop experience of being in situations where you kind of need to perform well and being able to.”

Staff Writer Cody Hills can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5286, or cody.hills@thevillagesmedia.com.