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BOWLING: Utica senior rolls a 300

Utica High bowler Steve Baranski came back from serious back surgery to roll a 300 game for the Chieftains. (Submitted photo)

Steve Baranski bowled a 300 game last week.

That's impressive enough. However, considering what the Utica senior had to endure to get to that achievement is even more remarkable.

A year and a half ago, Baranski underwent 12 hours of surgery at St. Louis Childrens Hospital to alleviate a severe case of scoliosis which left him unable to stand up straight.

He showed that he is all the way back when he rolled the 300 game for the Utica junior varsity in a meet against Dakota.

Steve Crabtree was coaching the JV squad that day and the scene is one he'll never forget.

"He had only one shot that came up a little high, in the seventh frame. I told him, 'just make your shot. You've got a big area," Crabtree said. "He was lined up that day and had a big area in the sense of bowling, four or five boards. If he dubbed it, it would hold. If he shifted a little to the right it would come up."

When it got to the 10th frame, everything at Imperial Lanes stopped.

"He got to the 10th and he was a little nervous, of course," Crabtree said. "Everybody stopped. He buried all three balls. He deserves it because he works hard at his game. I'm just glad I was there to watch him."

"I've experienced 300 games in high school bowling before and I've never seen a crowd get so excited," said John Venturini, another coach on the Chieftains squad. "And it wasn't just his team. There were tears everywhere. He and his dad hugging each other with tears in their eyes. It was just a special moment and it couldn't happen to nicer people."

Baranski described his feeling in two words.

"Overwhelmed and shocked," he said. "I was in shock that I did it. I was so happy. The most (strikes in a row) I've had in practice was six.

"I had moms coming up to me in the next game, crying and saying, 'I'm so proud of you.' I didn't even know who some of them were."

It was also a special moment for Steve's father, Mark Baranski.

"I didn't want to jinx him, so I didn't go over and stand where he could see me," Mark Baranski said. "As soon as it was over I pushed through the crowd to give him a big hug.

"Everybody remembers him because he was at every tournament last year with the neck collar on. And he has a good personality. I think everyone was rooting for him. There were moms coming out of the woodwork like he was their own kid."

Steve Baranski is averaging a shade over 200 this season and has bowled in a few of Utica's varsity matches. What is even more remarkable is that he carried a 175 average before he had the surgery.

Steve has been bowling since he was able to pick up a ball.

"I'm a bowler. My wife's a bowler. All the other kids are bowlers," Mark Baranski said. "My wife (Rita) is a CPA and she's busy this time of year so it's something we could have all four kids in at one time."

Steve decided to have the surgery because his spinal deformity was affecting his breathing. He visited a doctor in Michigan who told him that he could do surgery that would stabilize his spine, but wouldn't improve it.

"He said you can be stuck how you are or you can go to St. Louis to a guy who's the best in the world and he can actually correct it," Steve said. "I was looking forward to (the surgery) because I was going to be better off. I was going to the best (doctor) and he knew what he was doing."

That doctor was Lawrence G. Lenke, a leading expert in complex spinal deformity surgery. vertebral column resection (VCR) for severe pediatric and adult spinal deformity.

"Steve was a real trouper through the whole thing," said Mark Baranski. "We told him since he was little that he was going to have surgery. He knew it was coming. We had to wait a year to see the doctor."

The Baranskis also had to wait until Steve went through a growth spurt.

"Because it's the back, they wanted him to grow or else he'd have a short spine and long legs," Mark Baranski said. "They were worried about his lung function. The vertebrae was collapsing on his lung cavity. He had a large (lung) on one side and a very small one on the other side."

The 12 hours in surgery were probably the longest that Steve's parents and his three siblings had ever experienced.

"Both grandmothers were there, my wife and I and our kids," Mark Baranski said. "We were sitting there and praying that everything would go well. They gave us our own waiting room and said they'd call us with updates every hour. We had a lot of contact with the doctor -- but 12 hours is a long time waiting for your child to get out of surgery."

Steve was in a halo for eight weeks, then spent six months in a neck collar after the surgery on Aug. 23, 2010. He wasn't able to bowl last season, but got clearance from the doctors a little more than a year after the operation.

Steve remembers the first time he bowled after the surgery.

"I was very careful, but I bowled a 170 game," he recalled. "I had been exercising a little bit to build up my strength. I was so happy I could come back and still bowl because we were worried that I might not be able to. They didn't know if I'd be able to throw a ball because (the surgery) would restrict my motion.

"I have more freedom of motion now. I can't bend my back. But I don't know if that's good or bad."

His coaches said that Baranski has the admiration of everyone who has watched him bowl.

"He's an inspiration, not only for the kids on the team, but for everybody who knows him," said Venturini. "He never complained with the head gear and all the stuff he had to go through. He was very positive through it all."

Last Updated: 1/28/2013 8:10:05 PM EST

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