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Hill’s secret weapon: a bowler with punch

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Tech Sgt. Martin Bedford seems to have all of the qualifications one would want to be a contender in the bowling U.S. Open.

Here's a slice of his resume:

He's been bowling 20 years and during that time has bowled 11 perfect games, all of them in the past 14 years.

He's been on the Air Force bowling team six times.

In January, he won the men's division in the Armed Forces Bowling Championship in Reno, Nev., with 5,076 points.

He placed fourth in the annual Team USA championship to land a berth on Team USA and will represent the United States at various world bowling competitions.

He has won various tournaments.

Sunday, Bedford headed to North Brunswick, N.J., for the Professional Bowling Association's U.S. Open.

It's a competition that attracts professionals and amateurs alike — about 400 bowlers, Bedford said. The open starts with a day of practice today, followed by three days of qualifying. By the end of Thursday, 75 percent of the bowlers will be eliminated.

"I feel like I'm bowling pretty good to make the top 25 percent," Bedford said.

But to make it to the $100,000 championship match, Bedford will have to escape elimination to make the list of top 24 bowlers and a further round of cuts to the top four or five.

So who is the bowler to beat?

"Everybody," Bedford said.

But more specifically, there's Chris Barnes, who won the U.S. Open in 2005; Patrick Allen, who came in second; Pete Weber, who won the open in 2004; and Tommy Jones, who is leading in the PBA's world point rankings.

The finals will be broadcast on ESPN Feb. 19, from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

"I'm very pleased with my supervisor and management allowing me time to go," Bedford said.

Bedford's bowling career began when he was in his teens and his parents belonged to a bowling league. He and his siblings bowled in empty lanes while waiting for Mom and Dad.

"I guess the bowling bug bit me," he said.

When he was 18, he and his brother paid $25 to enter a doubles tournament and came away with $2,500.

"That was the start, and I felt very good about it," Bedford said.

Eight years later, he joined the Air Force, and bowling stayed with him. Since September 2003, Bedford has been stationed at Hill with the 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron, where he is a foreman in the vehicle maintenance shops.

A few years before joining the Air Force, Bedford had his first perfect game — 12 strikes in a row for a score of 300 points. And he's averaged nearly one perfect game a year since that first one.

The 11th perfect game came in December 2005 during league play at Hill's bowling center. So is No. 12 around the corner?

"My arm has been feeling pretty good lately," Bedford says, but because a perfect game can't be forecast, he's working on consistency and cleaning up any stray pins. Maybe that technique is working for him, because during practice Thursday he bowled a 182 and 192 with a news photographer's camera flashing away.

Maybe Bedford will be a dark horse among the professionals at the U.S. Open. Lt. Gena David, base spokeswoman, joked about nicknaming Bedford the stealth bomber.

E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com