Canadian bowler Mitch Hupé enjoying life on the PBA Tour, looks forward to Pan Ams

For most of the year, Mitch Hupé is an IT specialist with a division of the Manitoba government. But the 28-year-old from Winnipeg moonlights on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour.

And he is having a ball.

Hupé (pronounced hoop-eh) claimed his first career PBA Tour title in May, combining with American Packy Hanrahan to win the PBA Roth/Holman Doubles Championship in Middleton, Delaware.

Winning on tour isn't easy, especially with stars like E.J. Tackett. The 31-year-old American dominated competition this season, becoming the ninth player to win the PBA’s Triple Crown (World Championship, U.S. Open and Tournament of Champions).

Earlier this month, Hupé and PBA Tour veteran Francois Lavoie, a Quebec City native who makes his home in Wichita, Kan., were chosen for Canada's bowling team at the Pan American Games that open Oct. 23 in Santiago, Chile.

Bowling has been on the Pan Am menu since the 1991 games in Havana with Canada winning 13 bowling medals (four gold, three silver and six bronze).

Lavoie, who will be competing in his third Pan Ams, won doubles gold with Dan MacLelland at the 2015 games in Toronto. For Hupé, it will be his first taste of a multi-sport event.

"I'm very excited," he said. "It's a tournament unlike most tournaments we bowl."

Graham Fach of Guelph, Ont., and Darren Alexander of Windsor, Ont., have been named alternate players for the Canadian team with Winnipeg's Earl Sobotkiewicz serving as coach.

Hupé is no stranger to international competition, having competed for Canada around the world for some 10 years. He turned heads in December 2018 when, representing Canada, he defeated American star Kyle Troup to win gold in the Masters event at the World Championship in Hong Kong.

The worlds feature singles, doubles, trios and team events. The 24 bowlers with the best cumulative scores then progress to the Masters match-play finale.

Hupé won the hard way.

He qualified for the Masters event as the 20th seed in the all-events standings. He didn't get any byes and had to bowl every round, defeating Thailand's JoJo Yannaphon, top seed Tackett, No. 2 seed Andrew Anderson and Canada's MacLelland before facing Troup in the final.

Lavoie also won Masters gold for Canada at the 2017 World Championships.

Hupé is set to bowl in the PBA League Elias Cup this weekend in Portland, Maine, a team tournament he won in 2019 as a member of the Portland Lumberjacks. This year Hupé is a member of the Motown Muscle, along with Tackett, Anthony Simonsen, Sam Cooley and Nathan Bohr.

Hupé enjoys the team aspect of the event.

"It's definitely a tournament that everyone wants to win at least once. And the crowd is just phenomenal in Portland," said Hupé.

"We're all the same age, to a certain extent, and we're all friends," he added. "We spend a lot of time together throughout the season. So the camaraderie (of the team event) is fun."

Fellow Canadians Fach (Lumberjacks) and Lavoie (Las Vegas High Rollers) are also competing. Fach (whose name rhymes with raw) will make his PBA League debut. Qualifying starts Saturday.

The winning team will share US$75,000 with US$50,000 going to the runners-up.

The annual tournament is a different breed.

It is preceded by a draft, with team managers allowed to protect up to three members of last year's squad. Hupé and Lavoie were both retained by their teams.

This year, the tournament will see all five team members alternate two frames in each game.

Other Canadians currently on the PBA Tour are Lavoie, Fach, Zach Wilkins of Barrie, Ont., and Nathan Ruest-Lajoie of Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac, Que.

Hupé started bowling at age six, one of many sports his parents introduced him to. At 12, he got to travel with the Manitoba team to Montreal, a trip that open his eyes to the doors bowling could open.

He won a partial scholarship to Wichita State University, following the footsteps of Lavoie who also attended the bowling powerhouse. Home of the Shockers, Wichita State bills itself as "the most accomplished collegiate bowling program in the (U.S.)" with a record 23 men's and women's national championships.

Hupé graduated in 2017, having won the 2015 Intercollegiate Team Championships with the Shockers.

He hadn't planned on joining the PBA Tour but did well in some summer events that he, Lavoie and some friends competed in. Hupé found himself at a crossroads in his life, pondering whether to start a career or dedicate more time to going pro as a bowler.

"I felt like if I didn't give it a shot, I would probably regret not trying, I would always wonder 'What if?'" he said. "So the following season, I joined (the Tour).

"Luckily the PBA is only four months out of the year so you do have the time and the opportunity to work on the side and to make some money as well."

Bowlers can qualify for the Tour by meeting a certain average requirement or via a PBA regional event. This year's Tour featured bowlers from Australia, England, Finland and Sweden as well as North America.

Away from the Tour, Hupé is an IT specialist with the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation, a crown agency of the Manitoba government. Hupé, whose college degree was in information sciences, uses his tech skills to help maintain casinos.

He says his employer is considerate when it comes to time off for his sport. That includes a trip to Kuwait for the Oct. 3-15 International Bowling Federation (IBF) World Championships and the Pan Ams.

But Hupé bowls year-round, getting his practice sessions in when not competing.

During bowling season, he doesn't travel light. He normally takes six bowling balls to a tournament.

"You can bowl with more but six is just the easiest in terms of flying," he said. "It can be difficulty lugging around more than six bowling balls at a time.."

There are special bags to transport bowling balls with the wheeled three-ball bag coming in just under the normal 50-pound (23-kilogram) airline maximum for a piece of luggage.

"Bowling balls are similar to golf clubs, if you will. They all have different purposes," Hupé said.

The bags are light, to preserve the weight for the balls. So damage can occur in transit.

Hupé met his wife Briana through bowling. She competed for the University of Lincoln-Nebaska but is now a doctor.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press