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Face of the Week: Hunter Machin of Dundalk High School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.

Face of the Week: Hunter Machin of Dundalk High School

For Hunter Machin, perfection came early.

He was just 12, in yet another Junior Bowlers Tour competition and playing from behind in the final frames. He needed two more strikes to take the match and, if possible, notch his first 300 – a perfect score.

“Talk about knees knocking,” he says now, more than five years removed from that auspicious moment. “My legs were shaking.”

He made the shots, of course, and in the years since, Hunter has bowled 11 more perfect 300 games, the last two picked up on consecutive days on one January weekend a year ago. “It’s definitely a thrill,” says the 17-year-old Dundalk High senior, speaking not only of throwing a perfect game – something many bowlers pursue their entire lives – but also of bowling itself, and the challenge he feels each time he slides a 16-pound, polyurethane ball down a 60-foot maple and pine wood lane.

Despite his passion, however, getting Hunter to talk about his bowling prowess isn’t easy. “Hunter is very humble, and he’s never bragged about his bowling accomplishments,” says Dundalk teacher Carol Leonard-Reynolds. “I found out because he needed a bowling scholarship recommendation in the 10th grade and (I) began to communicate with his parents.”

In most respects, Hunter fits right in with the rest of his classmates at Dundalk. He plays varsity football and baseball for the Owls. He stays busy with his studies in the school’s Homeland Security completer program with The Community College of Baltimore County, where he carries a 4.0 GPA.

Yet Hunter is never far from bowling. He tries to practice at the Brunswick Zone Perry Hall lanes every weekend, but he admits his schedule can be grueling between tournaments, high school practices, and keeping up with academics.

On a cool, rainy Monday morning recently, for instance, he fought the urge to sleep after having flown in from Texas just hours earlier. He wasn’t there to compete, but to visit his girlfriend, a freshman member of the Sam Houston State University women’s bowling team. He met her on the Junior Bowler’s Tour – where Hunter was named Bowler of the Year in 2016.

“Time to practice is definitely the hardest thing about my bowling right now. Between my studies, and if I’m playing football or baseball, and then other things going on, I’m mentally tired by the end of the day,” he says. “Sometimes all I want to do is take a nap.”

Catching the ‘bowling bug’

In old newspaper articles, they called Hunter a bowling prodigy, especially after he threw his first 300. But the progression has been a natural one; bowling has always been there, has seemed part of the family even.

“I grew up in a bowling alley,” he says. Each Saturday night from toddlerhood on, Hunter went with his parents, Vickie and Bruce, and watched as they competed in league and tournament play themselves. His father spent five years competing on the Professional Bowlers Association tour, and Hunter accompanied him to state and regional tournaments. Hunter began bowling by the age of 9.

“He caught the ‘bowling bug’ at a very young age,” says his mother, Vickie.

Hunter remembers being fascinated by the sport, intrigued by the way accomplished bowlers could curl the trajectory of a ball at just the right spot in the lane and send each shot smashing into the center of a rack of pins. But there were other attractions, too.

“I think I was really trying to follow in the footsteps of my father,” he says. “I wanted to make him proud of me. Not that he wasn’t already proud; he was. But I wanted to show him I could do it, too.” Neither his older brother nor sister had seriously taken up the sport, so Hunter figured it was a natural next step for him. “I discovered I had a knack for it,” he says. “Soon I was at the bowling lanes every weekend.”

Meanwhile, his achievements as a bowler made him a minor celebrity at Berkshire Elementary and Dundalk Middle schools. By 13, four years after he began to enter tournaments, he had competed in more than 300 of them.

Along the way, Hunter has deepened his understanding of the sport, which he views as “75 percent mental and 25 percent physical.” He studies each lane to determine where “breaking points” and “lane patterns” are and where a bowler can hook his ball more or hook it less. He says using physics helps in understanding the game, and his participation in other sports at Dundalk has helped build muscle for more power in his shots.

In January, he competed for five days in Las Vegas for the Team USA / U.S. National Amateur Bowling championship and tryouts, placing 86th out of 175 amateur competitors as the top bowler from Maryland. With an average between 225 and 230 these days, Hunter will compete in at least two more major tournaments this year.

“It’s tough to compete,” he says. “There’s a lot of work involved.”

Going pro someday?

There is college ahead as well. Hunter has already committed to attending William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., where he will study criminal justice with an eye toward a career working for the FBI or another law enforcement agency.

It helps that the university also is home to the two-time men’s team bowling national champions and 2017 Eastern Intercollegiate Bowling Conference Tournament Champions. The college, says Hunter, should be a good fit.

From his winnings in past tournaments, Hunter will take more than $20,000 in scholarship winnings with him to help pay for tuition and other expenses, though he will attend William Paterson on an academic scholarship rather than an athletic one.

In the distance, he’s thinking about perhaps trying a pro career after college. He’d like to see how far he can take his bowling skill, especially because his parents “are looking forward to it,” he says. “They’re hoping to see me (bowling) on TV one day.” For an immediate goal, he says he’d like to win a regional tournament.

In the meantime, Hunter will continue to hone his game and enjoy his last season of Dundalk Owls’ baseball, where he plays shortstop, third base, or pitcher. He has to be careful with his pitching, however; though he has played rec, travel, and organized school baseball since he was small, he must take pains not to overextend his right arm or throw so hard he develops an injury.

“It’s different between throwing a ball underhand (in bowling) and overhand (in baseball),” he says. “I have to be careful.”

Even playing video games can tamper with a game as precise as bowling. He won’t play Wii bowling, the digital game that uses a console and handheld controllers, Hunter says, because it “messes up my timing.”

If there is one Achilles’ Heel for Hunter, the once and future bowling prodigy, it’s a homegrown one. If you see him throwing strike after strike one weekend on a local ten-pin lane, do not – do not – ask him to play a game of duckpins.

“Oh, duckpins!” he groans, closing his eyes and rolling his head back. “I can’t bowl duckpins at all. I suck at duckpins.” He explains about the quintessentially Baltimore sport: there’s no hooking in duckpins, you see, no physics at all, as far as he can tell. “You just throw the ball as straight and as fast as you can at the pins, it seems to me.

“Honestly,” he adds, “I don’t see how people can do (duckpins).”

Otherwise, no worries. As long as he’s focusing on a set of big pins waiting down an open lane, three of his fingers wedged into and cradling a polished ten-pin ball, well, for Hunter Machin, that’s about as good as life can get.

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