By the time Peyton Mercer got through the seventh frame at Bel-Air Bowl in Belleville last Saturday his hands had already started to tremble and sweat.
He was within five strikes of a 300 game, bowling’s best possible score.
So when the 10th pin of his 12th consecutive strike fell and the crowd which has assembled around his lane erupted in cheers, all that nervousness, adrenaline, excitement and joy brimmed over.
There was too much emotion for an 11-year-old to contain.
“I was about to cry on the 11th throw,” said Peyton, who will turn 12 next week. “Everything that had built up just came out; it just overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t hang onto the excitement anymore.”
Peyton is a sixth-grade honor student at Harmony Intermediate in west Belleville and has participated in the Bel-Air Saturday youth bowling league since he was about 5 years old.
In the aftermath of his perfect game, instinct led him immediately into the arms of his father Jody Mercer, 41, who had six 300 games of his own before work-related nerve damage in his hands forced him to quit.
He’s definitely the youngest I’ve ever seen and the youngest ever at Bel-Air Bowl. We also believe he’s the youngest bowler ever to bowl a 300 in Illinois.
Dale Strom, Bel-Air Bowl general manager
“I grabbed him up and we both cried like babies, but it was so cool,” Jody Mercer said. “It’s an experience with my son I can’t even describe.”
As the two celebrated along with Diana Mercer, Peyton’s mom, Bel-Air Bowl general manager Dale Strom began considering its historical context.
There can’t be many bowlers younger than Peyton to have rolled a 300, can there?
According to the United States Bowling Congress, the youngest bowler ever to do so is Hannah Diem of Seminole, Fla., who was perfect in November 2013 at the age of 9 years, six months and 19 days. She beat out Chaz Dennis of Columbus, Ohio, who still holds the distinction as the youngest male to roll a 300 at the age of 10 years, two months.
The youngest ever in Illinois is Steven Garland who, at age 11 years, 6 months, and 21 days, rolled a 300 game back in 2008. Once certified, Peyton will be the second youngest in state history, not quite five months older than Garland was at the time.
Through the Tri-County Illinois chapter, Strom has filed an inquiry with the USBC to see exactly where Peyton falls on the all-time list of bowlers with a 300 game. He believe he may be among the five to 10 youngest nationally.
“He’s definitely the youngest I’ve ever seen and the youngest ever at Bel-Air Bowl,” Strom said. “Either way, it’s quite an achievement.”
I was about to cry on the 11th throw. Everything that had built up just came out; it just overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t hang onto the excitement anymore.
Peyton Mercer, bowled a 300 game at age 11
In December, O’Fallon High School sophomore Jordan Peacock bowled a perfect game at 14 years, seven months despite missing most of his right arm.
Peyton has gone well beyond his 175 average before, once bowling an impressive-enough 254 and, another time, scoring a 247. But a perfect 300 had never appeared on his radar until he got to that eighth frame Saturday.
That’s when he stood up to the nerves and completed the task at hand, the retelling of which now brings a broad smile across his face.
“Even getting that far, for me, is really special,” Peyton said. “It’s actually special just when I strike out once in the 10th frame. So having gotten all those strikes in the previous frames and to get them all in the 10th frame, I was excited.
“My mom said she prayed for me — ‘Lord if this is his day, let it be his day today and if it’s not to be, let him be happy anyway.’”
Record 300 Games
Source: United States Bowling Congress
First: Canadian Frank Young, 1881 in Hamilton, Ont.
First in U.S.: George Wadleigh, January 1890 in Jersey City, N.J.
Youngest Ever: Hannah Diem, 9 years, 6 months, 19 days, November 2013, in Seminole, Fla.
Youngest Male: Chaz Dennis, 10 years, 2 months Dec. 2006, in Columbus, Ohio
Youngest on Professional Tour: Pete Weber, 15, 1978 in St. Louis
Oldest Ever: Name withheld by request, 90 years, 9 months, 13 days, August 2012 in Fullerton, Calif.
Oldest Female: Ollie Harbin, 81 years, July 2009 in Overland Park, Kan.
Longest between first and second: Joe Norris, San Diego, 1927 and 1994 (67 years)
Most in One Day: 4 by Troy Ockerman, December 1993 in Owosso, Mich.
With Lowest Series: 476 (89, 87, 300) by Reed Townley, January 1989 in Gadsen, Ala.
First by Ambidextrous Male: Neil Bayes, December 1963 (right-handed) and June 1970 (left-handed), both in St. Louis
First by Ambidextrous Female: Lesley Boczar, May 1997 (right-handed) and July 2003 (left-handed), both in Sunrise, Fla.