Weir High’s Babinchak bowling his way to the top

RISING STAR — Thomas Babinchak, a junior at Weir High School, received the Holiday Lanes Propprietor Award and will compete in the Bowling Combine at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas in August. (Photo by Andrew Grimm)

WEIRTON — Thomas Babinchak has been around bowling for most of his life, fondly remembering going to the lanes with his father, Robert Babinchak, as a small child.

It became evident early on that Thomas had exceptional talent, which is now taking his career to new heights.

“It’s something I really enjoy,” Thomas said. “I got into it through my dad. He has been bowling since he was in college. When I was a little kid he would bring me and I just loved bowling.

“Around the age of seven or eight I was bowling like 160, and the other kids weren’t. It took off from there.”

That accent through the junior bowling ranks will take Thomas to the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas, which is used by Team USA and junior Team USA, adjacent to the United State Bowling Congress Headquarters, August 8-10 for the Bowling Combine.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Thomas said. “Only 60 kids get invited to go to the combine, so it feels pretty good to know that I was one of the 60 they accepted. I feel like I’m representing bowlers in the Ohio Valley. It’s pretty important to me.”

It will not be the first time he’s competed at the facility.

“We had the fortune of visiting there last year because the National Tournament for kids, the Junior Bowl Championships, was held in Dallas last year, so we got to see the complex that we’ll be going to,” Robert said.

The trip to the combine became a reality when Thomas was selected by the the Whiteman Family (Charlie, Cara, and Tom) who own Holiday Lanes in Weirton, where Thomas is in the youth bowling program, for the 2019 Holiday Lanes Proprietor Award.

Also added to Thomas’ list of accolades recently was the Tom “The Vulture” Guio Memorial Award, selected by Guio’s daughter Christine Guio-Smalley. That award is helping send him to Nationals in Detroit.

Robert runs the youth program at Holiday Lanes, which has 92 kids participating and is the largest such program in West Virginia.

“It has really taken off in the last five or six years,” Robert said. “When I took over, we started with 56 kids in the program, and we’ve gone to 92. We’ve added a sport bowling class, which puts these kids in conditions like the Professional Bowler’s Tour.

“We started the first junior bowl league (in the state), and we’re the only one within a 300-mile radius that we are aware of.”

That growth is showing at the high school level, where the OVAC announced in November it will recognize the sport in the upcoming fall season. Thomas’ school, Weir High, also recently approved a bowling team.

“It’s getting recognized,” Robert said. “To have the OVAC bring it in is huge, because everybody looks at the OVAC as one of the big, power conferences in the region. For them to add bowling to that is really, really something big.”

Thomas feels the growth will continue.

“It’s exciting and good to know,” he said. “I think it’s something more and more people are going to get into. The sport is going to keep growing.”

Thomas, a 3.75 GPA honor student, Weir High Key Club member and distinguished student in mathematics, has his bowling goals set collegiately and beyond.

“I want to get a scholarship to go to college and bowl,” he said. “I hope to go pro after college, win some majors and some titles on TV. That would be pretty cool.

Favorite pro bowler is Jason Belmonte, an Austrailian two-hander with the most majors won.

“He’s beat all the all-time greats,” Thomas said. “That is somebody I want to be like.”

(Grimm can be reached at agrimm@heraldstaronline.com)