Winford “Win” Cockrell needed one more strike to finish out a perfect game, a 300 score — considered the holy grail by bowling regulars.
It was July 11 at Killeen’s Bowlerama on 38th Street. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Cockrell eyed the 10 pins set up 60 feet away.
“All I was simply thinking,” recalled Cockrell on Thursday, “was that I really want to roll a good ball. This is a sport where concentration is so key.”
Cockrell went through his usual four-step approach and let it fly.
“It felt really good leaving my hand and I thought I had it,” he said.
Seconds later, nine pins had fallen.
“That 10-pin,” said Cockrell with a good-natured grin. “I left the 10-pin standing.”
Of his score of 299, Cockrell said, “Naturally I felt a little disappointed. I thought to myself, ‘Dad-gummit, I wish I’d gotten that 300 game.’ But to get a 300 game you not only need the skill, you have to be real lucky.”
Cockrell has the skill. And he’s been lucky. A lot.
He has seven sanctioned 300 games. Cockrell’s first perfect game was in 1995, when he was 60 years old. Cockrell rolled two more perfectos in 2003. In 2008, at the age of 74, he rolled four 300 games.
Turning 79 on Nov. 30, Cockrell is one of the oldest bowlers in the 2013-2014 Tuesday Night League at Bowlerama. This is no “senior league.” Teenagers-and-up compete. Still, Cockrell was leading all 88 league competitors with a 220 average as of Nov. 14. (In the past few weeks a shoulder injury has kept Cockrell off the lanes.)
“To be leading the entire league at age 78 is an incredible accomplishment,” said Bobby Stewart, also 78, of Belton. “That’s just a reflection on how good Win is. He’s so consistent. When he sets that ball down, he knows exactly what it will do.”
“To be close to age 79, averaging 220 and leading the whole league is absolutely outstanding,” said Jackie Harris, 59, of Killeen. Harris, like Stewart, competes in the Tuesday Night League. “When I get to be Win’s age, I just hope that I’ll be bowling — never mind averaging 220.”
“Bowling has been my life,” said Cockrell, a Harker Heights resident the past 45 years. “I live and breathe bowling. I feel very fortunate that I enjoy good health, and I would think that bowling has helped play a part in keeping me healthy.”
Cockrell’s parents were sharecroppers and Win was just 6 months old when the family moved to Killeen.
His first job, naturally enough, was in a bowling alley.
“I was just 7 years old and we only had one place to bowl in town and it was a four-lane bowling alley,” Cockrell said. “I got paid 3 cents a game to set the pins. My favorite part of the job was bowling when it wasn’t busy. I wasn’t very good at first.”
Cockrell was a four-sport letterman at Killeen High School and graduated in 1953. He volunteered for the Navy and served two years of active duty.
“I am extremely proud of our country,” Cockrell said.
Cockrell worked as a postal carrier for three years in Killeen and then went to work at the Bowlerama in 1958 as a mechanic. At night, Cockrell participated in the bowling leagues.
“I was mediocre at first,” he said. “But I kept getting better and better as the years went by.”
In 1968, at the age of 34, Cockrell and two partners bought the Bowlerama.
“We had a few lean years but, overall, we did real well,” he said.
As for his game, Cockrell became somewhat of a Killeen bowling legend for his consistency.
“Win is the same every single game,” Stewart said. “He became so fundamentally sound. His form is perfect.”
Of those fundamentals, Cockrell said, “First, I locate my starting position. Then I focus on my target. Then, during my four-step approach, I focus on my timing and release.”
In 1994, Cockrell was enshrined in the Killeen-Fort Hood Bowling Association Hall of Fame. In 2000, he was elected to the Texas State Bowling Hall of Fame.
And then his game got better.
Cockrell sold the Bowlerama in 2000. “I had run the alley for 42 years and, of course, there were always some distractions while I was bowling,” he said. “But once the business was sold, I could participate in the leagues without any of those distractions.”
Cockrell has been married for 45 years to Freda. They met because of ... bowling.
“Yes, it was bowling that got Freda and I together,” said Cockrell with an amused smile. “She was an elite softball player and one day her game got rained out; and so she showed up at the bowling alley, and soon after that we got married.”
The Cockrells have four kids, 11 grandkids and four great-grandkids. Freda is unable to bowl any longer due to health conditions.
Cockrell recently read that a 97-year-old man bowled a perfect game.
“If I’m still bowling when I’m 97, I’ll still be trying to roll a 300 game, too,” he said. “I will keep bowling and competing as long as I possibly can.”
“What I think is very important for everyone to know is that as good a bowler as Win Cockrell is, he’s an even better person,” said Stewart. “There is not a better person on this earth. He’ll give you the shirt off his back and if that isn’t good enough, he’ll buy you one.”
Josh Maxson, 24, of Killeen, one of the area’s top bowlers (with a 214 average in the Bowlerama Tuesday Night League) concurs.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this town that bowls that doesn’t know who Win Cockrell is,” said Maxson. “And everyone who knows him, likes him. He’s a good sport and fun to play with.
“But he is a fierce competitor. When you’re bowling against him, he stays quiet. He tries to stay under the radar. But, before you know it … he’s kicking your butt.”
Contact Allan Mandell at email@example.com or 254-501-7566