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Candlepin ‘machine’ ties all-time record

Bowler’s record-making prowess technically isn’t, game officials say

Thirty-one-year-old Matt Penkul of Lynn bowled a once-in-a-lifetime score, a 514, Tuesday night, tying the candlepin world record for a three-round match. But yesterday, officials said a technicality, the absence of foul line sensors, will keep his score out of the record books. Thirty-one-year-old Matt Penkul of Lynn bowled a once-in-a-lifetime score, a 514, Tuesday night, tying the candlepin world record for a three-round match. But yesterday, officials said a technicality, the absence of foul line sensors, will keep his score out of the record books. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Jack Nicas
Globe Correspondent / December 11, 2009

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The Almonds were down on their luck. Down a player, the team lost the first of three rounds in its Nut Bowling League match.

Then Matt Penkul caught fire.

“It was unreal for a while; he was like a machine,’’ said Metro Bowl employee Joe Buns, who happened to be bowling in the next lane of the Peabody alley on his night off.

“To see those pins just blow away, it was like he was throwing hand grenades at them,’’ Burns said.

Penkul, 31, of Lynn, bowled a once-in-a-lifetime score Tuesday night, tying the candlepin world record for a three-round match. But yesterday, officials said a technicality, the absence of foul line sensors, will keep his score out of the record books.

On Tuesday, Penkul rolled consecutive scores of 155, 161, and 198. Professional bowlers score 125 in an average set.

’’A 400 is considered excellent for three strings; a 514 is truly magnificent,’’ said Penkul’s teammate, George Cavalieri, 59, of Peabody. “You never see anything like that.’’

As Penkul neared the record, league matches halted, and about 75 bowlers gathered around to witness history.

“The whole alley was behind him,’’ Cavalieri said. “The room was electric.’’

In the final round, Penkul twice hit three strikes in a row, including his last three balls.

“When I hit the first one, the place was going wild,’’ Penkul said. “Never mind the third, then it was deafening.’’

But two days later, after the pins were cleared and the celebratory beers drained, officials refused to sanction the record-tying score. The sensors intended to keep a bowler from crossing the foul line were off, deeming Penkul’s score unofficial, said Al Gangi, president of the Massachusetts Bowling Association.

“No foul lights, no record,’’ Gangi said.

It is the second time in five years the absence of foul lights has negated the record, officials said. Chris Sargent of Haverhill bowled a 517 at the same alley in 2004, officials said.

’’It’s all politics,’’ Sargent said. “If they want to count it, they’ll count it. Or they’ll say, ‘Too bad.’ ’’

Sargent said six months after throwing the 517, he scored a 518, but that was also denied the record because it was done at a different, unsanctioned alley.

“At that point, I just thought the whole bowling industry had turned into a joke,’’ said Sargent, who owns the world record of 530 for three straight rounds in a five-round game.

Dan Murphy, managing director of the International Candlepin Bowling Association, said the standards are necessary.

“There has to be some sort of protocol, some system in place,’’ he said. “It’s like hitting a golf ball in front of the tee. It’s illegal. We have to be able to justify the records.’’

Penkul, who works at a Toyota dealership in Danvers, said he knows he did not cross the foul line, but understands the decision.

“It’s unfortunate, I’ll be honest. You have a monster night and because of this one little thing, it won’t get recognized internationally,’’ he said. “But I mean the rules are the rules. You got to play by them.’’

He said he never imagined breaking 500 in his 25 years of candlepin bowling, a more challenging version of the sport with smaller balls and thinner pins that is almost exclusive to New England.

And the official record is not important to Penkul’s team, whose three other members average 65 years old.

“It counts with us, believe me,’’ Cavalieri said. “He’s the cream of the crop, the captain, the anchor, the everything for our team.’’

But the 20-year-old official record of 514 could be in danger Friday night.

Penkul faces off against Sargent at their home lanes in Peabody.

And the foul lights will be on.