College bowling champ goes pro

Charles Hallman/MSR News Gazmine Mason

Pro bowling was once a weekly television staple, a regular weekend watching experience shared by this reporter and his mother during his formative years. But, I really don’t recall ever seeing any bowlers, male or female, who looked like either of us.

Gazmine Mason is a rookie on the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) tour. She finished 25th in the Twin Cities Open May 2-4 in Eagan, the only Black female among 73 bowlers.

The PWBA season typically lasts 14 weeks during the spring and summer, beginning in April and running through August. The Eagan stop was the PWBA’s second tournament of the year.

After graduating from college a couple of years ago, Mason has made bowling her fulltime job. “I compete in a nontraditional sport,” she said. “My goal is to do the best that I can. I try to make a good shot each and every frame.”

Mason earned $1,150, knocking down over 4,800 pins in two days at Eagan — 16 games on day one, and eight games on the second day. She made the first cut — 18th of 32 players — but missed the second cut to 12 players. The young woman from Providence, Rhode Island was vying for the $10,000 top prize that weekend. 

A PWBA official said that Mason “definitely would be in the mix for Rookie of the Year if she elects to bowl most of the season.” She currently is tied for 21st in earnings and 25th in points.

Mason said, “I think most people know you can become [a] pro bowler, but they don’t think you can go to college for bowling,” which is what she did for four years.

There are 43 NCAA schools that offer Division I or Division II women bowling scholarships. There are 24 junior colleges and a number of NAIA schools that also have bowling teams, along with six Division III schools (but these schools can’t offer athletic financial aid). The United States Bowling Congress also offers bowling scholarships.

A family friend informed her father of this, Mason recalled. She dabbled in other activities:  “I was in ballet, swimming, chess, you name it,” she added. Then, around age 10, she got into bowling.

“I knew that is what I wanted to do,” Mason said, but it wasn’t until her teenage years that she got serious about the sport. “I got a trophy called ‘Last Place Champ.’ That really motivated me to work harder, and I started getting better.” After her high school sophomore year, Mason concentrated solely on bowling, and she began receiving college letters.

After looking at several schools, Mason settled on the University of Nebraska, one of the nation’s top women’s bowling schools. “I was the only Black female,” she pointed out.

During her years with the Cornhuskers (2013-2017), she was a three-time All American and helped her school win the 2015 National Championship. She also became the first Black person to win a Junior Olympics gold medal and the first U.S. bowler since 2000 to win the girls’ singles title at the 2016 World Junior Championships.

To her considerable credit, Mason is a three-time gold medalist and the first Black person to win multiple singles gold medals for Team USA. She also graduated with a business administration degree and a minor in computer science.

Now that she’s in the PWBA, “I don’t think of the money when I bowl. I just want to compete at a high level. I’m fortunate to have good parents who allow me to do these things,” Mason said. 

She also wants to grow her sport’s diversity. “To see more people that look like me out here would be pretty cool,” she said. “I want to get more color and more minorities in the sport.”