Bowling is taking this local phenom far, but his head and his heart remain close to home.
Sean Wilcox admits he is always a little nervous when he bowls the first game or two in a tournament, whether the prize is a simple trophy or thousands of dollars. But this past April, he was nervous with good reason.
Sean, a 20-year-old Altamonte Springs resident who was featured on the May/June 2015 cover of Altamonte-Wekiva Springs Life, recently represented Team USA as an adult for the first time (he is on the Junior Team USA, as well, which is a rarity) at the 2019 Pan American Bowling Confederation Men’s Championships in Lima, Peru. The prestigious event featured more than 100 competitors from 17 countries, including North America and South America, and Sean was the youngest bowler in the entire tournament.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Sean, a Seminole State College student who started bowling on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour at age 18 and won his first pro tournament – a regional event in South Carolina – in July 2018. “Just two months after I was selected for Team USA, I was told I’d be bowling in this big tournament. The United States has the best team in the world, in my opinion, and I knew everybody [at the tournament] would be watching us. Being a part of that was a lot to handle, especially when you’re the youngest on the team.”
But not only did Sean handle the situation, he and his Team USA teammates demolished the competition. Sean, a slender, 6-foot-4 right-hander, ended up winning two gold medals and a bronze, including a record-breaking Doubles championship with teammate A.J. Johnson of Oswego, Illinois. Bowling six games each, the duo averaged a phenomenal 255.2 per game (a total of 3,062 pins) to break the 2011 Doubles record – held by PBA stars Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Patrick Allen – by 145 pins.
Sean also won gold in the Team competition and a bronze medal for third place in All-Events, along with teammates A.J.; Perry Crowell IV of Chesterfield, Michigan; John Janawicz of Winter Haven; Nick Pate of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota; and Darren Tang of Las Vegas, Nevada. A.J., Nick, and Darren are all current PBA Tour bowlers.
“Doing what A.J. and I did over there, it was just crazy,” Sean says. “We just happened to be in the right place at the right time and did all the right things. Everything went our way.”
Sean’s bowling career has come a long way since he first tried the sport at his seventh birthday party. His dad, Ron, was a baseball guy and encouraged his son to play that sport, but it just wasn’t Sean’s thing. Mom Doreen wasn’t trying to steer him toward bowling, either, but she’s the one who scheduled the birthday party at a local bowling center – simply because it was a cool place to have a summer party.
Bowling leagues and bowling lessons soon consumed Sean’s life. He earned a spot on Junior Team USA for the first time in 2015, and that year he was also honored as Youth Ambassador of the Year by the United States Bowling Congress. Giving back to the community is also important to Sean, whether he is promoting the sport and its many youth scholarship opportunities or raising money for The Russell Home for Atypical Children in Orlando.
Sean is currently working towards a bachelor’s degree in sales, but his future goal – besides professional bowling – is to be a paramedic and emergency medical technician.
“Bowling, to Sean, is a tool to make good things happen in life,” Doreen says. “I’m so thankful for all the opportunities that Sean has gotten through bowling. He has been able to experience things that he probably wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Bowling has also made him see how he can help others who aren’t as fortunate.”
That certainly was the case in Lima. After flying in to Jorge Chavez International Airport, Team USA took a shuttle bus to their luxurious accommodations at the Delfines Hotel & Convention Center. The 10-mile trip was an eye-opening experience.
“During the bus ride, we really saw the ups and downs of Lima,” Sean says. “The airport was nice, and the hotel was in a rich, expensive area, but in between we saw the slums and lots of homeless people. Rundown buildings, broken cars, stray dogs, trash piled high. It was really humbling.”
Doreen says it was a life-changing experience for her son.
“Sean had never been out of the country before, and he had never seen anything like that,” she says. “He saw people living in shacks with no electricity or water. It was really impactful for Sean. It made him realize how privileged we are to be Americans.”
For now, Sean will be concentrating on competing for Team USA and in tournaments on the PBA Tour.
“I get to travel the country – and now the world – doing what I love to do,” Sean says. “Even though this is my job now, I don’t feel like I’m working. The sport has completely changed my life.”
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