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Fort Allen fireman strikes a future with bowling, studies

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Jake Garris Submitted Feb. 15, 2013

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Michele Stewardson
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 4:46 a.m.

Jake Garris of Hempfield went to a birthday party when he was 6 years old that changed his life forever.

He bowled.

An obsession was born.

“We tried flag football, swimming. ... I thought I was letting a kid figure out what he wanted to do,” said his mother, Amy Garris. “I never thought he'd still be here.”

“Here” is winning the Western Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference men's single championship for the highest score last week.

Garris, 18, a student at Westmoreland County Community College, bowled a perfect game of 300 to cap off a series of three games with a score of 815.

As a senior at Hempfield Area High School, the 2012 graduate made regionals and placed 10th in the state.

“I enjoy competition,” said Garris, 18, who works at Main Bowling Center in Greensburg. “It's about the competition, but fun too. I bowl better when I'm having a good time.”

But it's about more than bowling for Garris. After his stellar series, he got back to work at Main Bowling.

He has a second job as a delivery man for Falbo's Pizza in South Greensburg. He enjoys riding quads and hanging out with his friends.

He has been a volunteer fireman at the Fort Allen Volunteer Fire Department since he was 14.

“It makes you feel good when helping someone else,” Garris said.

Chief Neil Kush of the Fort Allen Volunteer Fire Department, wasn't surprised to learn that Garris joined others assisting a woman at Main Bowling during a medical emergency. Garris downplayed his role.

“Jake is a good kid,” Kush said. “He will help anyone.”

John Rahl couldn't agree more.

Rahl, the manager at Main Bowling Center, has been working with Garris for nine years as his junior league, travel league and college bowling coach. Garris used to like to accompany his mother to work as a victim witness coordinator for the district attorney's office at the Westmoreland County Courthouse. While she worked, Garris would go to Main Bowling a few blocks away.

“He has a worker mentality not heard of these days,” said Rahl of Greensburg. “He works very hard for the benefit of himself and the company he works for.”

Rahl said Garris' enthusiasm for bowling is clearly evident, making him fun to watch.

Garris recently scored the 815 series with the perfect game at Main Bowling. He scored his first 300 on Nov. 5, 2011.

Some people have the perception that bowling is just something to do while drinking beer.

“It's much more competitive than that,” said Rahl, a league bowler who has worked at Main Bowling Center for 33 years. “Where he's at — although it's not pro level — at his age he is very focused on the sport and how to make himself better at it.”

Garris said trying to become a professional bowler would be expensive, although he admits he might like to give it a try in a few years.

Amy Garris, like all good mothers, warned: “You could break your arm.”

So her son plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in business, with plans to transfer from WCCC to St. Vincent College in Unity.

In the meantime, he'll be perfecting his game.

Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.

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