By Zack Huffman
The beginning of Zach Baer's bowling career all began with an redheaded eight year-old child named Matthew.
Although Baer does not remember Matthew's last name, he does remember the way his youth-league teammate would bowl.
"He would always stand as far back as possible, then run up and just throw the ball down," said Baer. "Somehow, he'd always get strikes. I could never throw as many strikes as he could."
Watching his fellow bowler throw seemingly effortless strikes week in and week out got under Baer's skin. His competitive nature demanded he work towards becoming a better bowler.
Eight years later, Baer has developed immensely. He bowls every week, consistently bowling close to the 200 mark, and boasts a 278 high score, which qualified him for the Junior Gold bowling championships in Indianapolis, In. which begins Saturday.
Under normal circumstances, Baer would be excitedly preparing for trip up North, if it had not been for the fact that he had been invited to represent the United States as a Sports Ambassador, bowling in the Youth Friendship Games in Vienna, Austria this weekend.
The Youth Friendship Games seek to provide athletes from all over the world with competition and camaraderie as a People to People Sports Ambassador.
According to the People to People International website, www.ptpi.org, the organization was founded by President Dwight Eisenhower with the intended purpose of fomenting understanding and friendship through shared activity and cultural exchange among different international groups.
Although Baer does have experience competing in major city- and state-wide tournaments, when competition in Vienna begins Friday, it will be his first time competing outside of Georgia, let alone the United States.
"This will be amazing. I can't wait to go over to Austria to see all of the different bowling styles," he said. "It's a once in a lifetime thing and I don't think I'll ever be able to do it again."
As part of the Sports Abassador program, Baer will not only get to bowl against people from over 20 other countries, he will also get the opportunity to experience much of the culture Vienna has to offer, including visits to Schönbrunn Palace and The Prater which is Vienna's oldest theme park.
While it will be a 10-day trip for Baer, his parents will join him for the three-day duration of the competition.
Bowling has always been a family for the Baer family. Baer's first visit to a bowling alley was with his mother, Chris Baer, who has been competing in bowling leagues since she first joined her own mother's league in Michigan.
"I tell everybody that I've taught him everything he knows, but he's a better bowler than I am," she joked.
Although sports were always an interest for Baer, he wasn't always as focused in bowling as he was in other sports.
When he was younger, he divided time between baseball and football, while also bowling every Saturday morning.
That ended when he tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his left knee when he was just 10. He followed up on that injury when he tore his meniscus in his same knee four years later, effectively keeping the rising Woodland High School junior off most varsity teams.
"I would have still been with bowling but I probably would have tried harder with baseball," he said. "I would not be as good as I am now because I wouldn't have put in as much practice."
According to Baer, before he puts his bowling balls up for good, he would like to have at least one game where he scores a perfect 300 points. His high score of 278 left him just one strike away from the magic number.
Aside from bowling 300, Baer's dream would be to compete on the Professional Bowler's Association tour.