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Tech. Sgt. Michael McCarthy rolls one at RAF Lakenheath's Liberty Lanes.
Tech. Sgt. Michael McCarthy rolls one at RAF Lakenheath's Liberty Lanes. (Ben Murray / S&S)

RAF LAKENHEATH — If you’re an aspiring bowler, Tech. Sgt. Michael McCarthy is not the kind of guy you want to meet in a dark alley.

Normally, McCarthy is a gregarious aircraft maintenance mechanic from the 48th Fighter Wing. But when the lights go down to signal the start of league play at Liberty Lanes bowling alley, McCarthy starts mercilessly doling out strikes.

Last week, in a league match at Lakenheath, the 39-year-old bowled a perfect game — 12 strikes in a row — the eighth of his career and the second in five months. It was another highlight in a string of recent accomplishments that are part of what can only be described as a roaring comeback to the sport for McCarthy.

After a childhood spent bowling in his home state of Massachusetts, where he first picked up a ball at the tender age of 5, McCarthy made himself into a tournament-level player, taking home titles and bowling at the U.S. nationals, he said.

Then, during a string of temporary-duty assignments starting around 1999, he stuffed his more than two dozen bowling balls into a closet and hardly looked at them until last year, finding he didn’t have time for the sport anymore, he said.

“I really didn’t throw a bowling ball for five years,” McCarthy said.

But, starting in fall 2004, after a move to Lakenheath, he picked up the ball again and started going back to the lanes, he said.

So, after five years, he must’ve been rusty, right?

“Actually, I started bowling better,” McCarthy said. He fell right back into the old rhythm, he said.

“[It’s] kind of like I never left,” he said.

And the scores he’s posted since the return show that he’s been on a … well, roll.

His current average hovers around 210, and, along with the two perfect games, he also bowled an 800 series, another high water mark that requires an average score of 267 for the three games.

McCarthy has also joined a trio of local teams, including an Air Force squad with other members of the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, another called the Four Horsemen and a third called Buckets of Azz.

“We pretty much count on him to hold us up,” said Master Sgt. John Young, a bowling teammate from the 48th EMS. “He’s pretty much the backbone.”

Young said that he’s been bowling for a number of years as well, but McCarthy just has something that makes the pins go down.

“Maybe he’s just gifted, I guess,” Young said.

McCarthy’s resurgence has been so fervent that he now bowls up to five nights a week, he said, and has recently traveled to Reno, Nev., to try out for the Air Force team. He placed in the middle of the pack at 15th. Next, he plans to compete at the U.K. nationals later this month.

With all that time spent at the bowling alley, McCarthy said a lot of the credit for his recent success goes to his wife, Maureen, for putting up with his habit.

And, for all the tournaments he’s planning to attend, he said he keeps at it more than anything else just for the fun of it.

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