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August 27, 2014

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Growing crowd didn’t distract 79-year-old from bowling perfect 300 game

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Steve Marcus

Bowler Irma Wenzel, 79, poses at Red Rock Lanes in the Red Rock Resort Wednesday, Oct. 3 2012. Wenzel was recognized Wednesday for bowling a perfect game at the bowling center on Sept. 26.

Irma Wenzel bowls a perfect 300 at 79

Irma Wenzel demonstrates her bowling technique that scored her a perfect 300 game at 79 years old.

Irma Wenzel's Perfect Game

Bowler Irma Wenzel, 79, poses by her trophy during practice at Red Rock Lanes in the Red Rock Resort Wednesday, Oct. 3 2012. Wenzel was recognized Wednesday for bowling a perfect game at the bowling center on Sept. 26. Launch slideshow »

Bowlers at Red Rock Lanes enjoy chatting with one of the regulars, Irma Wenzel. She invites friendly conversation, even during competitive league play, with her easy smile and by sharing her home-baked cookies and cakes.

The other day they really had a reason to gather around her. The 79-year-old retiree, who participates in two senior leagues at Red Rock, had just thrown 12 strikes in a row for a perfect 300 game.

The United States Bowling Congress, which documents scores, confirmed she is the oldest woman in Nevada history to roll a perfect game. She's the second-oldest woman to achieve the feat in the United States, behind an 80-year-old from Missouri.

At Red Rock, where on average 50 perfect games are bowled each year, the accomplishment isn’t uncommon. But most of Wenzel's contemporaries at Red Rock are playing bingo or slot machines and many of her other friends are not healthy enough to be physically active.

During her league game Wednesday, facility officials presented her a plaque to commemorate her record in a brief ceremony that included balloons and baked goods she brought to the alley.

“I always dreamed of what it would be like to have a perfect game, but it wasn’t something I tried to get,” she said. “It just happened. It really did. I never thought it would be me.”

When Wenzel was a few frames away from accomplishing the perfect game during her Wednesday late-morning Storm Westside Doubles league, she noticed others in the facility gathering around her.

With each strike, the crowd got louder and larger — a scene common in alleys when someone is close to a perfect game. The atmosphere causes many bowlers to become so tense, they fail.

But Wenzel, who barely averages a 200, wasn’t rattled in approaching each roll like an ordinary league game.

“It’s like a big family here,” she said. “Everyone gathered around to watch me bowl and was saying, ‘One more, one more.’ But there was no pressure. I wasn’t nervous.”

Since rules in the doubles league have partners competing against multiple teams each game, Wenzel’s perfect game was accomplished on two lanes — something seasoned bowlers describe as highly difficult.

Bowlers take time to study the oil placement and get into a rhythm on a certain lane. Changing the routine, even the slightest alteration, could be costly.

Wenzel doesn’t buy into that theory and never overanalyzes a roll. During her perfect game, each of her rolls was perfectly placed in the lane pocket, said her partner, Bob Yost.

“She was very consistent, had a nice approach and follow through,” said Yost, 53.

Wenzel bowls four times each week at Summerlin lanes to stay active. She also exercises four times per week and doesn’t hesitate flexing her arms to display well-defined muscles. She also stays active by chasing around two Yorkshire terriers, which is how she celebrated her perfect game.

She will receive a ring from the Bowling Congress, which is customary for any member who records a perfect game. Last year, she recorded a perfect game in practice, but the Congress only recognizes league-game scores.

It won’t be her first time winning a national award.

Wenzel was an accomplished pistol shooter in her younger years, winning several championships at the National Rifle & Pistol Championships in Camp Perry, Ohio, and even establishing some longstanding records, she said. A native German, she learned shooting from her husband’s U.S. Army team. They operated a tourist lodge in Alaska, which gave her plenty of time to keep up her pistol shooting technique.

She didn’t start actively bowling until retiring to Summerlin about 12 years ago. She’s not the best bowler in her senior league — in fact, she only had a 151 Wednesday during the game of her perfect game celebration — but she frequently goes to the facility to practice. And she's always giving someone a reason to smile.

“It's awesome. I've never seen a senior her age come close (to bowling a perfect game),” said Michael Pellegrino, the bowling events supervisor at Red Rock Lanes. "We are just all so proud of her."

Red Rock officials also gave her a $50 gift card to use at the resort. But in a rush to get from the ceremony to the second game of her league outing, she left the envelope on the table. An employee rushed to give it to her, but her mind was already on the next roll.

“I’ve always been competitive and taken (bowling) serious,” Wenzel said. “Maybe I can get another perfect game.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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  1. Nice going. Congrats.