It took them three tries, but the Nordman family found a bowling duo that worked.
Last weekend, Sandy Nordman and youngest son A.J. placed fifth in the QubicaAMF International Family Tournament in Rockford. It's the second time for both mother and son, but the first time they competed together.
"I bowled with his older brother Will a few years ago, and A.J. bowled with his dad [Al] a couple years before that," Sandy Nordman explained, "and we finished 11th both times. This was the highest we've ever gotten, and we came closer than we thought we would to winning it all."
The July 20-21 tournament consisted of local and state winners from all over the country, as well as U.S. military bases worldwide. Thirty-six teams advanced to the tournament at Don Carter Lanes, with the top eight moving into the semifinals and the top three qualifying for finals.
The first round involved a six-game series from both parent and teen. The top eight total scores from that round moved into the Baker-style semifinals, where the partners would alternate shots.
A.J.'s six-game total was 1,299, and Sandy's was 1,029, placing them fourth overall. After the scores were reset for the Baker portion, the Nordmans – with Sandy rolling the odd-numbered frames and A.J. the evens – combined for an 1,886 over eight games, good for fifth place … but 19 pins out of the finals.
"At the very end, when you know you didn't make the finals, it kind of makes you look back at all the things you could've changed throughout the games," A.J. said. "It's the little things that matter when you come up only 19 pins short, but it was still a lot of fun, and a great new experience to bowl with my mom."
Like her son, Sandy felt bad about just missing out.
"I was so mad at myself for all the open frames," she said, "and you play the shoulda, woulda, coulda game."
In the Baker portion, the Nordmans competed against each team for the first seven games, then sought to solidify their position in the final game before the cut for finals.
"We were in second place, and I was looking at the trophy and thinking, 'Where could I put that?'" Sandy recalled. "I guess I kind of lost focus, and that's where it went out the window.
"But it was still a wonderful opportunity, a great time meeting other families, and probably the only chance I'll get to bowl in a tournament with A.J."
When Will and Sandy competed together, they qualified for the national tournament in Texas. Previously, Al and A.J. competed in Baton Rouge, La.
This time around, there was no real chance to travel too far from home. The local qualifier they won was at Town & Country Lanes in Mount Morris, and the state tournament was at the Fox Bowl in Wheaton.
With Rockford as the site of nationals, there was no need for a long road trip or extended family vacation. But that was actually just fine with A.J.
"I thought it was really cool, being able to go in knowing everything about the lanes we were bowling," A.J. said. "It was cool to have a giant tournament like that so close to home, and to do so well was pretty awesome."
As part of the tournament, every teenager in the 36-team national tournament was awarded scholarship money based on how they finished. The winner, Manuel Sanchez, who was also from Illinois, got $5,000 of the $34,700 total meted out.
For fifth place, A.J. received $1,750, and he got his photo taken with his mom and bowling legend Norm Duke, who was on hand to perform some trick shots and serve as the keynote speaker for the awards banquet.
And while the Oregon High School junior-to-be is still unsure what school he will put that money toward – he plans on making his final decision on colleges before his senior year – he agreed that the money toward his future was the perfect way to cap off one of his favorite tournaments in his favorite sport.
"It was a lot of fun, and I was pretty relaxed out there with Mom beside me instead of Dad," A.J. said. "Without him there to help me and analyze things with me as much, I got to have more fun, and I find I bowl better when that happens."
As for Sandy, she's already setting her sights even farther down the road.
"Bowling is really a family thing, and these family tournaments are a fun way to spend time together," she said. "But as you can only qualify for this twice, which A.J. has now done, I'll just have to wait for my grandkids to come along."
Nordmans at nationals
QubicaAMF International Family Tournament
Don Carter Lanes, Rockford, July 20-21
A.J.'s 6-game series: 254-209-203-206-235-192—1,299
Sandy's 6-game series: 187-149-166-185-160-182—1,029
Duo's Baker score: 1,886 (high game 233, low game 157); final qualifiers rolled 1,995, 1,942 & 1,905
Reward: A.J. received $1,750 in college scholarship money for finishing fifth overall
FYI: A.J. and father, Al, placed 11th at tournament in Louisiana a few years ago, while Sandy and son Will (now 20 years old) placed 11th in Texas a couple of years later. … Nordman family also consists of A.J.'s twin brothers Kenny and Matt (32) and stepbrother Andrew (26). … A total of $34,700 in scholarship money was awarded among 36 teenagers. … Bowling legend Norm Duke served as keynote speaker at awards ceremony, and also performed a show of trick shots.