ARLINGTON, Texas - Jonathan Wilbur owned the record for the highest three-game series ever bowled in the state of Vermont for nearly a decade, before his friend and teammate visited the Green Mountain State and beat his set by a single pin.
Wilbur reclaimed the record Monday and guaranteed himself a permanent spot atop the list by rolling the state's first 900 series, which included 36 consecutive strikes during the Commercial men's league at Rutland Bowlerama in Rutland, Vermont.
The perfect set makes the 36-year-old right-hander the 34th bowler overall to record a 900 series. His achievement is pending approval from the United States Bowling Congress and would be the 35th USBC-approved 900. It marks the first perfect set of the 2018-2019 season and first since October 2017.
Wilbur, of North Clarendon, Vermont, surpassed the 888 series he rolled at Rutland Bowlerama in March 2004. That performance included games of 299, 289 and 300.
In 2012, Todd Lathrop of Colchester, Connecticut, visited and rolled games of 300, 289 and 300 for an 889 set, also at Rutland Bowlerama. It was just a small piece of the special history between the two competitors.
"I probably was the second-happiest guy in the center the day Todd broke the previous record, and it was extra special because I was bowling on the same pair of lanes at the time," Wilbur said. "We've joked about me getting it back, and I'm incredibly proud to have been able to do so. To shoot 900 is something I can't wrap my head around. I'm still pinching myself. It's something you dream about but never think can really happen."
In his career, Wilbur has rolled more than 100 certified perfect games, but despite all of the strikes and honor scores, the majority of which have come at the 32-lane Rutland Bowlerama, he only has rolled back-to-back 300s on one other occasion, and that came after a 246 start.
In 75 previous sets of 800 or better, he has eclipsed the 850 mark seven times and always wondered if 900 was a realistic possibility.
"I've bowled many 300s and some big sets before, but I've found myself shaking like a leaf going for back-to-back 300s before," said Wilbur, a three-time winner in the famed New England Bowlers Association (NEBA). "I didn't feel a lot of nerves the first two games last night, but I started to get really shaky and nervous about the seventh frame of the last game. I got away with a shot I didn't think was going to make it back, and that actually helped with the nerves."
Rutland Bowlerama is one of 11 USBC-certified bowling centers in Vermont, a place that means a lot to Wilbur and the most special potential backdrop for his historic night.
As he closed in on his place in the record books, the venue grew quiet, while he still was surrounded by his closest bowling friends. The crowd included 12 three-player teams from his league, eight five-player teams from the women's league and some bowlers in for open play. He even got a special visit from his parents after the set concluded.
Wilbur has spent time in the national spotlight before, finding success at the USBC Open Championships and Bowlers Journal Championships presented by USBC.
In 2015, he teamed with Lathrop to claim the Open Doubles title and $7,500 top prize at the Bowlers Journal Championships.
They made headlines together again in Las Vegas in 2017 when they helped HOF Silver Lanes 1 of New Hartford, Connecticut, into the lead in Regular Team at the Open Championships. The team went on to finish fifth in the 10,286-team field.
During that performance, Wilbur opened the night's final game with eight consecutive strikes, before an 8 pin ended his run at the first 300 of the tournament's debut at the new South Point Bowling Plaza.
The next day, Lathrop claimed that honor during his first game of singles. It was one of 10 perfect games at the 2017 tournament.
"Me, Todd and John Kirker bowl a lot of team and doubles stuff together, and we just vibe really well," Wilbur said. "We don't necessarily push each other, but we have the same will to win, and we just click."
Together, Wilbur and his fellow competitors have helped put Vermont and the Northeast on the bowling map, but even past success could not help Wilbur prepare for the attention that comes with rolling a 900 series.
"I definitely never thought I'd be the guy to do this, and it's incredibly surreal," said Wilbur, who still has his eye on an Open Championships Eagle and a Professional Bowlers Association title. "It's just little old me from a small town in a tiny state. It's overwhelming, but such a dream come true. And, I couldn't have picked a more special place to shoot it."
The first USBC-approved 900 occurred Feb. 2, 1997 when Jeremy Sonnenfeld rolled three consecutive perfect games in Lincoln, Nebraska.
USBC-Approved 900 Series (35)
Jeremy Sonnenfeld (R), Lincoln, Neb., Feb. 2, 1997
Tony Roventini (L), Greenfield, Wis., Nov. 9, 1998
Vince Wood (R), Moreno Valley, Calif., Sept, 29, 1999
Robby Portalatin (L), Jackson, Mich., Dec. 28, 2000
James Hylton (R), Salem, Ore., May 2, 2001
Jeff Campbell II (R), New Castle, Pa., June 12, 2004
Darin Pomije (R), New Prague, Minn., Dec. 9, 2004
Robert Mushtare (R), Fort Drum, N.Y., Dec. 5, 2005 and Feb. 19, 2006
Lonnie Billiter Jr. (R), Fairfield, Ohio, Feb. 13, 2006
Mark Wukoman (R), Greenfield, Wis., April 22, 2006
P.J. Giesfeldt (R), Milwaukee, Dec. 23, 2006
Rich Jerome Jr. (R), Baltimore, Dec. 22, 2008
Chris Aker (L), Winnemucca, Nev., Oct. 30, 2009
Andrew Teall (R), Medford, N.J., Nov. 2, 2009
Andrew Mank (R), Belleville, Ill., March 18, 2010
William Howell III (L), Middletown, N.Y., Oct. 21, 2010
Matt Latarski (R), Medina, Ohio, Nov. 28, 2010
Bob Kammer Jr. (R), Crown Point, Ind., Jan. 8, 2011
John Martorella Sr. (R), Greece, N.Y., April 12, 2012
Jimmy Schmitzer (R), Riverside, Calif., April 20, 2012
James Williams (R), Pawcatuck, Conn., (bowled in Wakefield, R.I.), April 16, 2013
Joe Scarborough (R), Charlotte, N.C., (bowled in The Villages, Fla.), April 21, 2013
Todd James (R), East New Market, Md., (bowled in Laurel, Del.), March 18, 2014
Amos Gordon (R), Colorado Springs, Colo., April 11, 2014
Earon Vollmar (R), Toledo, Ohio, Jan. 19, 2015
Hakim Emmanuel (R), Stoughton, Mass., Feb. 19, 2015
David Sewesky (L), Dearborn, Mich., Jan. 10, 2016
Dale Gerhard (R), Mill Hall, Pa., Jan. 12, 2016
Sean Osbourn (R), Houston, Nov. 21, 2016
John Buchanan III (R), Evansville, Ind., Jan. 11, 2017
Sam Esposito (R), Homer Glen, Ill., Feb. 3, 2017
Brady Stearns (R), St. Cloud, Minn., March 28, 2017
Joe Novara (R), East Patchogue, N.Y., Oct. 16, 2017
Jonathan Wilbur (R), North Clarendon, Vt., Jan. 14, 2019**
** Pending formal approval by the United States Bowling Congress.
For more information on USBC records, visit BOWL.com/Records.