IN 1986, a group of friends gathered at King’s Bowl, a 26-lane bowling centre at King’s Centre to socialise, bowl and cultivate their new interest in the relatively new sport.
They comprised Sunny Si, Patrick Sim, Robert Lu Nam Min, Chew Kheng Hai and Chester Lim who was then the manager of the bowling centre.
What started as a recreational past-time soon developed into a passion for the group who began nurturing ambitions to achieve greater heights in tenpin bowling.
They got serious and learned the finer skills of bowling from the centre’s resident coach K. Pranee, a former Thai national bowler.
“One day, we thought we were good enough and that we could challenge bowlers from other parts of the country in the national championship,” recalled Si.
“We sent a team to the Malaysian Open … it might seem that we were only there to make up the numbers but more importantly, we gained experience and exposure.
“That was where we met the president of Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress (MTBC) Datuk Dr PS Nathan, deputy president Peter Yap and secretary Sydney Tung who encouraged us to form an association and be affiliated to the national bowling body so that we could progress further in the sport,” said Si.
Nathan had been heading MTBC from 1974 until now.
The Persatuan Tenpin Boling Sarawak (Amateur Tenpin Bowling Association Sarawak, or ABAS) was officially registered with the Registrar of Societies on May 13, 1987.
Sunny was elected as its president, Patrick Sim the vice president, Chester Lim as secretary, Jenny Lim as assistant secretary.
Robert Lu was the treasurer with Chew Kheng Hai as the assistant treasurer.
The committee members were Yean Poh Hua, Alex Tan, Masni Kassim, Dewi Bohtana, William Then and Abdul Wahab Dollah.
After a couple of years to plan, organise and train, ABAS had a youth team ready and eager to prove their mettle but the Sukan Malaysia (Sukma) that Sarawak hosted in 1990 would disappoint because bowling was not featured.
Two years later in Sukma Johor, Sarawak’s modest target was to win a bronze medal.
Sarawak sent only the boys team comprising Harris Bohtana, Donny Jong, Robert Thian and Kenny Cheng.
Going in as underdogs, they snatched the boys team gold from favourites Selangor as well as picking up the targetted bronze in the boys singles event through Kenny Cheng.
They amassed a total of 2257 pins, beating the star-studded Selangor side by 89 pins.
Their performance impressed national head coach Sid Allen so much that he wrote a letter to Chester Lim to heap praise on the quartet. Harris became the first Sarawak bowler to make the national youth squad that year.
Bowling was again left out at Sukma Perak in 1994 and Pahang, 1996.
Sarawak bowlers came back with one silver at Sukma Selangor in 1998, improving to one gold, two silvers and one bronze two years later at Sukma Penang 2000.
In Sukma Sabah in 2002, Sarawak produced its best performance since 1990 with three gold, one silver and one bronze medals.
In 2004 at Sukma Negeri Sembilan, Sarawak won two silvers and one bronze while in Kedah 2006 the medal haul was one silver and three bronzes and they bagged two golds, one silver and one bronze in Sukma Terengganu in 2008.
The major breakthrough came in 2010 at Sukma Melaka where Sarawak were crowned the overall champion for tenpin bowling with seven golds, three silvers and two bronzes.
This was followed with one gold, three silvers in Sukma Pahang in 2012.
Sarawak captured its second overall title in Sukma Perlis in 2014 with six golds, five silvers and two bronzes.
It was an epic year for Sarawak tenpin bowling in 2016 as not only did Sarawak win the overall title but also broke the all-time record of 11 golds (Penang won eight in 2000) out of 11 events, winning two golds in girls singles when Nerosha Keligit Thiagarajan and Nur Syafiqah Sajeli were tied for first place.
Federal Territories took the only other gold in the Boys Trios event.
In Sukma Perak 2018, Sarawak bagged seven gold, two silver and two bronzes.
Sukma Johor 2020 was cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic and rescheduled for 2022.
Looking to the future, ABAS intends to maintain its top status and preserve the interest in tenpin bowling through parallel development.
Si is a great believer in parallel development for Sarawak tenpin bowling.
“You do not only train bowlers to win medals but you need other skilled people – technical officials like tournament director, lane marshals, ball driller and others – to back up the association, and we need strong support from the State government, parents, members and individuals.
“For those who do not make it to the higher level of competitions, we can develop them into technical officials to run and manage local, national and international events,” he added.