Kassi Barington-Steele was three strikes away from bowling a perfect game when she heard her father’s voice.
“When you get to the 10th frame, bowl one ball at a time because it takes three to get there.”
The daughter of Mitchell bowling legend Marty Barington went on to bowl the first perfect game of her career — as part of a stretch of 19 consecutive strikes — on April 9 at the state USBC Women’s Championship in Yankton. With one weekend remaining in the tournament, Barington-Steele sits atop the handicap singles leaderboard with an 862.
Barington was not able to witness his daughter’s milestone in person, but his advice resonated after bowling 27 perfect games since 1992. While Barington-Steele spent her childhood at Village Bowl, her passion and skill have deepened in recent years, because it provides common ground with her entire family.
“It helps that I have my family involved, which makes me want to be a better bowler and they push you, my dad especially,” Barington-Steele said. “There are times when my dad, sister and I have a little bit of betting on who can win the most games, or score higher, or whatever. It kind of pushes you to be a better bowler.”
Barington inherited his love for bowling from his father Melvin, who was an avid competitor in Mitchell and traveled to tournaments around the state. At 17, Barington began working at Village Bowl and increased time at the lanes allowed him to become one of the best bowlers in South Dakota.
He eventually became the manager during his 21 years at Village Bowl and his wife, Mary Ellen, has spent the last 18 years working for the bowling alley, which led to his daughters spending significant amounts of their early childhood around bowling. Both Kassi and younger sister Kylie went on to participate in other sports, but have returned to bowling.
“(Kassi) wanted to get pretty serious about it and I think she wanted to beat her dad’s butt a little bit,” Barington laughed. “She’s taken over the reins a little bit. It’s more of can I beat her once in a while now. I knew once she devoted herself to the sport she was going to go somewhere with it and now she’s getting some big scores.”
Barington-Steele, 26, now practices twice a week, but her true enjoyment comes from playing with her family. She attends tournaments with Marty frequently and plays in the Kernellette League with Mary Ellen and Kylie each Thursday at the Village Bowl.
Although Marty was not able to attend the state tournament, Barington-Steele was able to lean on Kylie — who was bowling on the same lane and was also on track for a 300 game until the eighth frame — as she progressed toward her first 300 score.
“I told her, ‘Keep me motivated, let’s keep dancing and don’t let me get my head in the game,’” Barington-Steele said. “We kept dancing to all the songs that were playing. … When I stood up for the approach on the ninth frame, I figured this is where I’m going to mess up, nor will I ever. I threw the ball, it was a nice ball and I ended up getting a strike.”
During the last 30 years, Marty has compiled an array of accomplishments, which includes a pair of state championships. But his daughters could pass him in state titles by the end of this weekend.
Barington-Steele’s 862 will be difficult to top in the handicap singles division, while Kylie leads in overall handicap division by nearly 300 points and her 859 in the 600 tournament is tops by 105 points. Meanwhile, the sisters are also on the Verne Eide-sponsored team with Michelle Fortin and Melanie Suelflow that leads the handicap team division.
“The biggest thing for me is that I get to share these moments with my daughters,” Marty said. “I’m able to bowl tournaments with them like I did with my old man.”