Omar Espinal had more than the common cold. The Union City High School senior bowler had all the symptoms of a bad case of the flu – chills, fever.
“He looked like crap,” Union City head coach Ray Addas said. “He was sitting down for most of the day. He told me that he felt terrible and horrible. I asked him if he could last the day.”
“I probably had a fever of 101 or 102,” Espinal said. “I had the cold and the flu. I wasn’t myself. I didn’t feel good at all. I didn’t even want to bowl.”
After all, the Soaring Eagles had a big match scheduled that day against Hoboken. Espinal, the team’s top bowler, was essential to the Soaring Eagles’ lineup. And just five days prior, Espinal had the pinnacle of all bowlers, rolling a perfect game of 300 at the Brick Memorial Classic tourney.
“Last year, I had a couple of 289 games,” Espinal said. “In the state tournament last year, I had a 298. It came down to the last strike and I blew it. I had bowled a 300 in league play, but never in high school. It was a good feeling to finally get a perfect game.”
But with a crucial HCIAA match on tap, Espinal was battling illness. He decided to give it a go. It was vital that Espinal somehow manage to muster enough energy to compete against the Red Wings.
“I told my coach that if I didn’t bowl well the first game, he could take me out,” Espinal said.
Turned out that Espinal had the day of his bowling life. Espinal merely went out and bowled the series of a lifetime. He managed a 276-289-289 for an incredible 854 series, the highest series ever recorded in Hudson County high school bowling history and the second highest in the history of high school bowling in New Jersey.
“I still can’t believe it,” Espinal said.
Espinal’s incredible day goes one step further. It’s the best series ever recorded by anyone bowling at Bowl-Rite Lanes in Union City – anyone, professional or amateur, high school or adult.
“And Bowl-Rite has been around for 70 years,” Addas said. “It’s so rare and totally unbelievable.”
For his efforts, Espinal has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. He joins his teammate, Jose Cruz, who was chosen as the Athlete of the Week a few weeks ago. It’s the first time in the more than two decades of the weekly feature that two bowlers have been selected in the same season – and they happen to be teammates and classmates.
Before his explosive series, Addas approached Espinal and had a simple request.
“I really felt good about the way he had been bowling,” Addas said. “So I told him that I wanted an 800 series. We’ve never had one before and I told him I wanted one. He delivered. He was locked in from the first few shots.”
“I felt like I was doing everything right,” Espinal said. “I felt good and just kept going.”
Addas said that Espinal’s week to remember can only mean big things for the Soaring Eagles down the stretch of the season. The HCIAA championships are upcoming, followed by the NJSIAA Group IV state sectionals.
“I’m looking forward to the end of the season now, because with Omar and Jose, we have two great bowlers to lead us. The way Omar’s bowling right now, I feel so confident. I think we can go a long way.”
“My confidence level right now is up to the roof,” Espinal said. “The expectations are way high right now.”
Espinal has already been accepted to Penn State University, where more than likely he will bowl next year.
“He’s a smart kid with a great personality,” Addas said. “Everyone loves him. They call him `the big teddy bear.’ He’s everyone’s friend.”
Espinal will major in mathematics in college. He’s just always enjoyed working with numbers and figuring out his bowling scores and averages helps those math skills.
“I just love math and I have since grammar school,” Espinal said. “Bowling definitely helps with my math. I know what I need and I know what everyone else has. Guys always ask me to add up their scores, because they know I can do it.”
It’s so rare to have two talented bowlers on the same team. There’s no rivalry between the two.
“I guess I kind of used what Jose did as motivation,” Espinal said. “I knew I was better than the way I was bowling. I always feel that I have so many flaws in my game.”
“They both fuel each other,” Addas said. “Omar got all the acclaim last year, then Jose won the tournament earlier this year and it was his turn. Now, Omar’s stepped it up and had an incredible week. There’s no bad blood between them. They cheer each other on. Jose sets up Omar and if they’re both on, it’s lights out.”
Addas was asked how one bowler could have such an amazing week.
“I think it takes a lot of talent, but it also takes a lot of luck,” Addas said. “Just a fraction of an inch here or there and it never happens. But to have three games like that? It’s even more remarkable than the perfect game. He’s bowling the best I’ve ever seen and he’s the best high school bowler I’ve ever witnessed.”
“It really has been amazing,” Espinal said. “I never could have dreamed this could happen.”
Maybe Espinal needs to get sick more often. – Jim Hague