Steve Mackie says Rio Rancho’s Bo Bolon, Bowler of the Year in the metro area, “is a gentle soul.”
That’s probably what you’d expect from a guy who pushes his accomplishments — to the tune of 28 perfect games, and a series that once included two 300 and 33 consecutive strikes — to the background.
Bowling, to Bolon, is about “the guys, the women” and the fun times rolling balls at 10 pins 60 feet away.
The funny thing is, he’ll tell you, was the night of his state-record 879 series at Tenpins & More, he’d been on the San Juan River fishing with a buddy. The duo left in plenty of time to get to Rio Rancho’s 35-year-old bowling center, but his buddy had somehow left his cell phone behind. They returned up US 550 to retrieve it, and then headed back to Rio Rancho.
By the time they entered the center, it was time for Bolon to roll — without a practice frame or two.
“They just said, ‘Bo, you’re up,'” he recalled. “I just started bowling and got to the 10th frame. My buddy, Brad Hayes, who I bowl with all the time now, he goes, ‘Wow — you’re going to have a great game.'”
That was a slight understatement; Bolon had a great series – 300, 300 and 279.
His third 300 game and 900 series were lost when he sent the 10-pin skidding in the fresh oil, but still standing in the 10th frame — “I missed it by one board.” What bowler would lament a 279 game?
All told, he’s rolled 28 perfect games.
Bo got a late start
Keep in mind that Bolon, 59, didn’t even begin to bowl until 1986, when he was stationed at Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque. From 1987-90, he was back in his native Idaho, working as a sheriff’s deputy.
“My wife (Cheryl) didn’t like it, so we came back out here,” he said. He said the couple chose Rio Rancho because it had fewer people than Albuquerque.
“I started bowling (again) and bowled here (Tenpins & More) ever since.”
He spent 29 years working for the City of Rio Rancho in the code enforcement department, and, once retired, quickly began another job at Innovative Auto Solutions, which is behind the bowling center.
It’s not the thrill of making a 7-10 split or bowling a perfect game that he loves, he says, “The game’s fun … I enjoy the camaraderie, coming out (and) hanging with the guys and the women.”
A new hardship
Bolon’s been clean from cancer, he said, for four years — he speaks in a whisper from his battles with vocal-cord cancer, which required seven surgeries.
But now he’s going to undergo a basic 180-degree change in his bowling: A torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder means he’ll be getting a new bowling ball or two and unloading left-handed.
“I just had (pro shop operator) Billy Grant drill me out some new stuff and go from there,” he said.
His recovery will heal on its own, he’s been told, in six months to a year.
“I hope I can average 130 or better,” he said, knowing the enjoyment of bowling tops his scores. Those days of 300s and 800 series will be missing.
“(Former pro) Mike Miller said he’d help me get started,” Bolon said. “This is the perfect place to bowl, because you’ve got Mike Miller — one of the best coaches in the entire country … you’ve got Dana Miller-Mackie, a hall of famer (and a southpaw)… and their coaching styles are entirely different and it’s gonna make you feel good and work on your game. And then you’ve got Steve, who’s another hall of fame bowler, from Australia.
“My second 300 was bowling with (Mackie) in a Thursday league. I threw a 268 and then I threw the 300, then I started falling apart. He said, ‘Do this’ and ‘do this,’ I got to the 10th frame and someone goes, ‘He’s gonna shoot 800;” I thought Steve was gonna kill him — that’s the biggest jinx in the world.”
Bolon said his only superstition is getting ready to bowl when there are announcements over the PA system.
“I’ve had a lot of 800 series,” he said, but the two categories he received plaques for — high series aand Bowler of the Year — are near the top.
Bolon, who’s also worked at the Tenpins & More counter, was an assistant coach on the Cleveland High School bowling team for its first five years of existence.
“We were fortunate — we won state the first three years (2010-12),” he said, when Jim Tillery was the head coach.
Bolon also worked under coach Dennis Helmick, whose son, Matt, bowled for Rio Rancho High School, and he didn’t cross Northern Blvd. to coach till Matt had graduated and Tillery had left a vacancy at Cleveland.
Bolon also helped out with the Cibola High bowling team, but now doesn’t feel he has the time. Of course, he’ll find time for bowling, having been a weekly four-league bowler.
Tillery, now living in Colorado, had fun when Bolon was on the staff.
“Bo was showing up at practice every day, with good camaraderie with the kids,” he recalled.
“We didn’t have any seniors that year; it was the first year of the school. (CHS Principal Scott) … Affentranger was asked if we can get one in bowling, maybe a third-place (finish)?
“We qualified that day; the kids had never been in the state tournament,” Tillery continued.
“We draw Eldorado in the first round — they sweep us; they kicked our butts. We took a little break, then faced Oñate in an elimination match. The kids were struggling; some were nervous. I was thinking, ‘Man it’s gonna be hard to get a trophy.’ We lost the first game (two-of-three match) to the Knights — “there were a few hecklers in the crowd.
“Bo said, ‘It’s not what they think, it’s what you think.’ He said, ‘I’ll support you, no matter what.’ I thought we had the right kids to get the win, not a trophy, just a win.”
The Storm won the next two games to oust the Knights, and went on to keep winning to set up a rematch with Eldorado in the semifinals.
“I told the kids they’d get a third-place trophy no matter how we did,” he said. “Now we’re on a roll — what color of trophy do we want? We’re playing with house money; this is a bonus.
“We beat Eldorado. Now we’re guaranteed a red trophy. Who’s ahead of us? Rio Rancho, who we haven’t beaten all year; we had to beat them two out of three twice.”
The Storm did it, too, Tillery said, “but without Bo’s advice and calming effect and being in the pit, we ended up sticking with the kids that were there. Once they realized they could win, it was Katie bar the door.”
Bolon happily recalled that day, more than 10 years in his rear-view mirror, and the enjoyment he had helping those young bowlers — more camaraderie, you could say.
“He’s got a lot of good stories,” Tillery said of his one-time assistant, “and some of them are true.
“He’s got one of those laid-back personalities; I couldn’t have had a better assistant that year,” Tillery added. “Man, what a great state tournament that was.”
Maybe someday in 2021 Bolon will return to more championship situations; maybe not.
It won’t matter, as long as he’s at Tenpins & More, hanging out on the lanes and enjoying the camaraderie.
“He lost his voice, and he’s the same pleasant person,” Mackie said.