Favorite athlete: My favorite athlete is probably Kyle Troup. As a bowler off the approach, I aspire to be him because he is so animated, but when it's time to bowl, he can "flip the switch" and become as serious as needed.
Favorite team: I really don't follow sports teams so I can't say anything along the lines of "I prefer this team because..." Because of this I'll probably just be a traditional person from Philly and say one of the Philly sports teams.
Favorite memory competing in sports: My favorite memory competing in sports is throwing an 824 series. My games were 258, 267, and 299. The actual ball and line that I was throwing was a lot of fun. As the match progressed, the entire alley started to migrate over towards my pair of lanes to watch my 299 game. As the game progressed and I rolled more and more strikes, the volume of cheering began to grow exponentially.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: It was last year and I somehow managed to not cross the foul line, but my foot still went right out from under me. I'm rather tall so I made a rather loud bang when I hit the ground, especially because the lanes that we were on amplified any sound made. Thankfully, it was right after I released the ball so my ball traveled down the lane as if I hadn't fallen.
Music on mobile device: The music on my phone is extremely random. I have Dragonforce to some songs from the Harry Potter playlist.
Future plans: To go to college for Mechanical Engineering. I hope to go to Lehigh University.
Words to live by: “You do not deserve anything, you earn everything”
One goal before you turning 30: To graduate from college (hopefully with a Master’s degree by this point) with as little debt as possible.
One thing people don’t know about me: Up until the beginning of high school, virtually no one knew that my real name was Aaron, not AJ.
By Ed Morrone
Growing up, AJ Borell tried just about every sport that was offered. None of them stuck.
Until he tried bowling.
Four years, a couple of regional qualifiers and one near-perfect game later, Borell had found his match.
While bowling may not be the most highly publicized sport in the Suburban One, the league’s bowlers approach their crafts with as much tenacity as any football or basketball player. Borell, a senior bowler at Upper Moreland, has been with the varsity program since his freshman year and has blossomed into one of the more accomplished performers in the SOL American Conference.
However, the simple, lingering question still remained: how does one get into competitive bowling at the high school level?
“By the time I was six or seven, I had tried pretty much every sport except football,” Borell said. “One day, I told my parents I wanted to try bowling; they were a bit skeptical, but they said they would do some research and find out more for me. They went to our local bowling alley in Willow Grove to see about how I could learn to bowl, and there was a bowling camp for kids over the summer. After that experience, I knew it was something I wanted to do year-round.
“I found that it was something that was a lot of fun to do with other people, and I ended up in a Saturday morning league as a 7-year-old, and I was in the same league for about eight years until that bowling alley closed. That league was the one constant in my life for a long time.”
Borell honed his skills over time, and by the time he was a freshman at Upper Moreland, he already boasted an average score in the low 170s. That was good enough for him to qualify for the regional tournament, no small feat for a freshman.
Borell said that despite his early success, he was a bundle of nerves and uncertainty heading into tryouts.
“My first memory is that it was terrifying,” he said with a laugh. “I remember going into tryouts with an average at the time around 150 or 160, and I didn’t even know if I was going to make the team. Suddenly, I’m at the high school level and there are kids with averages of 200-plus. It was a really horrifying experience.
“A guy on our team who is an assistant coach with us now, he was bowling on the lane next to me. I looked at his scores and saw he averaged 170, 180, so I just focused on him and trying to beat his scores, mainly because I was too terrified to just throw the ball and see what happened. As I found out, I always performed better when I chose someone to try to beat.”
After Borell’s regional qualifying trip as a freshman, he didn’t make it as an individual as a sophomore; however, Upper Moreland qualified as a team. As a junior, Borell ran into some frustrating inconsistencies in which he found himself both atop the mountain and flat on the canvas.
In a match against Hatboro-Horsham, Borell was in a place athletes know as “the zone.” A basketball player finds himself in the zone when he or she can’t miss a shot, while a baseball player might have such a hot bat that the target looks more like a beach ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand. For Borell, the zone meant he found himself in the mid- to high-200s, close to 100 points above his average. He threw a 259 his first game, a 267 the second before falling one pin shy of perfection.
Most bowlers can spend decades playing the sport and still not even sniff a 299.
“I don’t remember much of the actual bowling,” he said. “As it went on, I just kept saying to myself, ‘OK, let’s see what happens.’ I took what was working those first two games and just tried to do it again. After I got a strike in the ninth frame, 90 percent of the people in the alley were standing behind me seeing if I could get three more. I was shaking with nerves, but I throw a beautiful ball, another strike, whole place goes ballistic. I did it again, and I could hear the whispers behind me.
“Then, I threw one more beautiful ball…and got a nine. There were a lot of high fives and hugs, and even though I didn’t get a 300, 299 is a feat in and of itself. I wasn’t even off the lane before I already had it in my mind I want to beat it. In bowling, the purpose is to always beat your high game, or throw a 300. Now for me they are the same, I can only throw one more high game in life, and I want to.”
Borell spoke fondly of the small, tight-knit bowling community at the high school level. He’s been bowling in leagues with many of his teammates and competitors for years, to the point where, while they try to beat each other, they also root for one another’s success as part of the same fraternity, another aspect about the sport that Borell loves.
“We’ve known each other for so long,” he said. “That we just try and feed off each other. We all check on each other to see how everybody is doing. It’s different than baseball and football where you might know the guys you’re competing against, but you don’t necessarily become friends with them. The camaraderie among everyone is amazing.”
Howard Cohen is in his third year as the Upper Moreland bowling coach, arriving to take over the program in Borell’s sophomore year. Cohen said that Borell was already a highly-developed bowler when the two crossed paths, but at the same time the coach marveled at the improvements in his game that Borell has made between his sophomore and senior campaigns. A low-170s bowler in his early days, Borell’s average sat at 196.4 this year, good for sixth-best in the American Conference.
“His consistency and mechanics have matured the most,” Cohen said. “Sometimes AJ gets in his own head and tinkers too much, like after that 299 it was almost like he felt the need to chase perfection. But when he’s on, I haven’t seen anyone bowl better.”
Cohen also praised Borell for his willingness to help other bowlers improve their own games, even despite his status as the best bowler on the team. As one of the smaller schools in the SOL, Upper Moreland doesn’t draw a lot of bowlers, to the point where Cohen doesn’t cut anybody. This means a good number of beginners with not much experience show up to tryouts, and Borell works with them to improve both confidence and skills.
“He loves working with the other kids,” Cohen said. “He wants to improve them, and he has. He’s taken a couple of them and made them much stronger bowlers. One of our girls came in without much experience, and AJ worked with her and helped her qualify for regionals. He’s turned some of my jayvee players into much stronger bowlers. Even when he threw that 824 series, he was still working with the jayvee kids between shots instead of being off and absorbed in approaching perfection. It was a great moment for him, and part of his legacy that I’m always willing to share.”
In addition to being a member of the bowling team, Borell is also in the school marching band, a commitment that he says takes up infinitely more time than his bowling commitments. In fact, he spent so much time practicing or performing as a percussionist in the marching band that he decided to count the hours. Between June and November, Borell estimates he spent 375 hours with the band.
“I’m a huge band geek,” he said, laughing. “Bowling is actually the stress reliever.”
Borell also works at Five Below to save as much money as he can before college. He hopes to attend Lehigh University, where he expressed a strong desire to study mechanical engineering. Always a gifted math and science student that struggled with English class, Borell wanted to find a career where he could utilize his strengths in math and science to design something, but then take it a step further and actually go out and build it.
He’s excited for what lies ahead, but Borell also knows he’s going to miss the bowling community he’s spent so much time with once next winter comes around and he’s in college. Teammates and competitors alike became close friends and allies, all working together to prop each other up and enable one another’s successes.
“It’s a close-knit community,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I’m friends with so many of these guys, that I can walk into any bowling alley and see somebody I know. We all stick together, so if there’s one thing I’m going to miss, it’s that.”