Every time Mike Shiner competes for the Olentangy Liberty High School boys bowling team, the junior can't help but think of his father.
Fred Shiner taught his son how to bowl when Mike was 5, and father and son bowled together about twice a week for more than a decade. They also attended several professional bowling tournaments together.
"Many of my best memories are bowling with my dad and the thing that made those bonding experiences so amazing were the car rides where we talked about stuff and laughed together," Mike said. "My dad had the rare quality of being a truly nice person. He never judged me or looked down on me no matter how good or bad I did. When I got a little older, I realized that he wasn't just my dad. He also was my best friend."
As a freshman, Mike quickly emerged as Liberty's No. 1 bowler and became the first member of the team to qualify for the state tournament.
He decided to continue bowling despite what happened on Oct. 21, 2011, when Fred returned home from bowling with friends and took his own life early in the morning.
"It was totally unexpected," said Mike's mother, Sally Shiner. "Fred was a wonderful dad and husband and never in a million years did anyone see this coming. He and Mike had been bowling together for so many years and he couldn't wait to watch him bowl in high school.
"A lot of people thought Mike would walk away from bowling after he lost his father. Sometimes Mike has a lot of angst in his heart when he bowls because he can feel his dad watching him, but he continues to do it to honor his dad and make him proud."
Mike had just started practicing with Liberty when his father died. Competing with the Patriots provided him with a temporary escape from his grief.
As a freshman, he rolled a 724 series to win a sectional title, had a 619 to place fifth at district and rolled a 582 to place 31st of 119 competitors at state.
"My freshman season, I was in shock and almost in a daze about everything that had happened and I just wanted to go bowl because it gave me something else to think about for two or three hours a day," he said. "Going to state as a freshman was very humbling."
Mike continued to bowl during the offseason but almost didn't return to the Patriots for his sophomore season as he increasingly realized how much he missed bowling with his father.
"I didn't bowl as religiously as I once did after my dad died because he was my mode of transportation to bowling alleys and I wasn't enjoying it as much without him," he said. "It got to the point where I started questioning the pros of bowling for my dad versus the constant reminders about how much I missed bowling with him, and I strongly considered not touching a bowling ball again.
"But I decided to stick with it and I'm in a better place with bowling now. I don't get into a sad mindset when I bowl anymore. Now I just think about my childhood memories and it makes me happy to think that he's looking down, still watching me and enjoying it."
As a sophomore, Mike had a team-best 205.7 average in Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-North Division matches. He finished fourth (636) at sectional and 15th (585) of 117 competitors at district to fall short of making it back to state.
Mike had a 202.5 average through Liberty's first 13 matches this season. Coach Linda Ridolfo said he has developed into a team leader.
"He's such a nice kid and he's respected by everyone," Ridolfo said. "He's never looked down on anybody because they don't bowl as well as him and he gives our team a pep talk before every match."
Mike wants to help the Patriots qualify for the district and state tournaments as a team for the first time in his career.
Liberty, which finished 3-2 in the OCC-Capital, was 10-3 overall and 9-3 in the COHSBC-North before facing Westerville North on Jan. 29. The Patriots went 5-13 overall and 4-10 in the COHSBC-North last season.
"My numbers are a bit down compared to the last two seasons when I averaged around a 205, but our team is doing a lot better and that's what matters the most to me," Mike said. "It was really frustrating to miss making it back to state last year, but now I realize that you can't be perfect and win all the time.
"Being a part of this bowling team has taught me a lot about how to be a leader and the importance of teamwork. This year, I feel a lot less uptight because my biggest focus is doing what I can to help our team accomplish something great."
His parents have taught him to get the best out of himself in all situations.
"I try to be successful at everything I do because I want to make my parents proud," he said. "When my dad passed away, I didn't want his legacy to die because he had a lot of good qualities, so I've tried to mold myself in his image and carry myself the way he did."