Laurence Manning eighth grader Nathan Stewart was born to bowl.
For one, it’s in his blood. Nathan’s great-grandfather, Louis Sielaff, was elected to the United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame in 1968 after leading his team, the Pfeiffers, to a combined seven USBC Open Championships and Team All-Events Championships throughout the 40’s and 50’s. A fact that Nathan only recently learned about.
“I learned that as I took it more seriously right before we moved here,” Nathan said of his great-grandfather’s Hall of Fame status. “It’s really cool. It would be really cool to be like him.”
Though Nathan’s mother, Amy, jokes that that skill skipped a generation, the family’s skill for bowling rang true for the LMA eighth grader at an early age. Nathan’s first trip to the lanes came at the ripe young age of three and a half. He was so small, that he couldn’t hold even the lightest ball with one hand. Naturally, he started bowling with two, a technique that Nathan still uses to this day. While he doesn’t remember much from the early days, Nathan felt the grip bowling had on him from the beginning.
“My parents would just take me over the summer to go bowling and I just started from there. I enjoyed it,” Nathan said. “I don’t really remember anything from the first time. I really remember starting the league.”
Nathan’s bowling journey started in Charlotte, and he quickly made the jump from playing casually to taking part in bowling leagues after turning eight. He loved adding a more competitive angle to the sport.
“I was really excited,” Nathan said of starting in league play. “It was a new opportunity, and I could take it more seriously.”
When Nathan and his family moved from Charlotte to Clarendon County four years ago, bowling was a perfect way to get involved in his new community. He joined the bowling league in Sumter and, for a period, at Shaw Air Force Base. The then hopped onto the bowling team at Laurence Manning when he hit sixth grade. He was still technically a year too young to officially join the team, but he bowled in regular season tournaments. He became the unofficial team mascot as the team won the SCISA state title.
“It was fun to talk to people at my school that loved to bowl,” Nathan said of first joining the team at LMA. “You don’t feel left out, you have people there that like to talk about it. It’s good teamwork. I learned a lot from them, especially some of the older kids.”
While Nathan couldn’t bowl in the state championship that first season, he was thrilled to be along for the ride.
“It was awesome. I was lucky I got to be there and cheer them on,” Nathan said. “When they won, it was like I won.”
Nathan didn’t have to wait long to earn a title with the Swampcats. He joined the team officially in seventh grade and played a role in LMA winning their fifth straight team title in 2020.
As Nathan progressed in the sport, new challenges were added to the mix. He qualified for the Junior Gold Championships last year but elected not to take part after battling a bad back. He’s a member of the South Carolina All-Star Bowling team and plays in events on the Tough Shot Tour. Nathan, who is averaging a 195 in competitions, again qualified for the Junior Gold Championships this year after his success on the Tough Shots Tour. Bowling has brought Nathan to lanes across North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia over the last few years. He’ll head up to Grand Rapids, Michigan July 13-15 for Junior Gold.
“It’s more competition. I like competition, it helps me. Doing all of the tournaments is a bigger experience for me. I learn more from each tournament,” Nathan said. “It makes me want to improve and better myself in bowling.”
While Nathan loves the competitive aspect of bowling, it’s not the only reason he loves the sport. At the end of the day, bowling is still a fun activity, not a labor that he has to trudge through.
“It really just helps me relax and get out of my own head,” Nathan said of how he feels at the lanes.
Bowling events come in all shapes and sizes. Nathan takes part in both team and individual events, which each come with their own sets of challenges.
“Individuals, you’re more reliant on yourself and you can kind of get in your own head sometimes. But its also good for me, I like doing it,” Nathan said. “For team, it’s nice because you have teamwork and you’re cheering each other on. It’s not just about you. You have to help out your teammates and work together.”
As Nathan continues to get older and improve, he is setting lofty goals. He hopes that bowling will help him pay for college, as winning major events often comes with scholarship money. He would love to follow in his great-grandfather’s Hall of Fame footsteps.
“I’m hoping to get scholarships to colleges, really. From there I could maybe go to the PBA,” Nathan said. “That would be awesome.”
When you look at the laundry list of things that Nathan has already accomplished, it can be shocking to learn he’s still hasn’t reached high school yet. That fact isn’t lost on the eighth grader.
“I’m very grateful,” Nathan said. “The fact that I get to go to all of these tournaments and have all these opportunities is great. I’m hoping I can do more as I go into high school.”