Amidst Personal Tragedy, Barnes Looks To Defend Title At PWBA East Hartford Open

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – The 2019 Professional Women’s Bowling Association Tour resumes this week after a month-long break, as the PWBA East Hartford Open at Hall of Fame Silver Lanes kicks off the first of three elite-field events.

The event kicks off Thursday with a pre-tournament qualifier to determine the final eight players for the 32-player elite-field event. Two eight-game qualifying rounds will take place Friday, after which the top 12 players will bowl six more games on Saturday to determine the top five players for Saturday’s stepladder finals.

CBS Sports Network will have live coverage of the PWBA East Hartford Open stepladder finals on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

Defending champion Josie Barnes of Nashville, Tennessee, is in the field this week after her career-validating win at the 52-lane venue. It marked her second career victory – she won the 2016 PWBA Rochester Open – and accomplished her goal of becoming a multi-time champion.

This season, she wasted no time in capturing her third career title by winning the season-opening Nationwide PWBA Greater Cleveland Open in April.

But, no one would’ve blamed Barnes had she opted to skip this week’s event, considering the tragedy she and her family recently experienced. Barnes’ mother, Lisa Earnest, was killed in an automobile accident on her way home to Vandalia, Illinois, after celebrating Barnes’ 31st birthday in Nashville.

Barnes withdrew from last weekend’s PBA/PWBA Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles event, but made the decision to compete this week with the help of husband, Kyle, and some help from her mom. Admittedly, she had no interest in bowling the rest of the season as “she could barely see 10 minutes in front of her.” 

“I think anything that gets you back into your new normal is important,” said Barnes, who is a seven-time Team USA member. “There has been so much changing over the last couple of months that this is the most familiar thing I have in my life right now. Mom would want me to do what makes me happy, as long as it keeps me healthy. 

“My mother raised me to be a competitive woman and to look challenges in the face and perform my best through fear. I know there were plenty of times she thought I did too much, but she also taught me to listen to my heart and my body.” 

While tragedy has affected the Barnes/Earnest family, Barnes is carrying a shining light with her daily. She is nurturing the next generation of future PWBA athletes as she and Kyle are expecting their first child, a daughter, in October. 

It’s a stark contrast of emotions when considering what Barnes has endured during the last month. The pain of losing her mother will remain for some time but the joy of feeling her baby girl’s “1-2 punching combinations” helps deflect the pain. What Barnes is going through already is a teaching moment for her unborn daughter.

“I think the biggest thing is realizing there's so much more than just knocking down pins,” Barnes said. “I love what I do, that's why I'm still out here competing, but life is made up of a lot of different things and bowling is just part of that. When it's all said and done, I want my daughter to know that life can be hard. Really hard. But you can still do what you put your mind to.”

The Earnest family always has been a close group, which includes Barnes, her sister, Jessica Earnest, who helped Junior Team USA win a team gold medal at the 2012 World Bowling Youth Championships, and their father, Larry Earnest. 

The three have been grieving their loss together as best as possible, with the sisters living near one another in Nashville, though their dad is five hours away in Vandalia. They “check-in with each other every day” and have “spent most weekends together” but the upcoming month and a half will make it difficult with PWBA competition as challenges still lay ahead.

“The biggest challenges we still have yet to face,” Barnes said. “From talking to friends and fellow bowlers, it starts to hit you during the year of ‘firsts.’ But, I think two of the quiet heroes in this are Kyle, my husband, and Ethan, my sister's partner. They're grieving as well, but they are there for whatever we need, and they have been a lot of people's point of contact in terms of checking in on us.”

There’s nothing quite like a mother-daughter relationship, and this loss still is fresh for Barnes. She’s taking things day by day, along with the good and the bad. Barnes knows her mother’s lessons and the imprints she’s left on her life will hit her at some point and probably when she least expects it. 

“Her lessons seemed to reach across a lot of different aspects of life,” Barnes said. “I think one of the hardest parts will be not having that text message from her after each block. She was different from a lot of parents. She had plenty of praise, but she also had no problems telling me my spare shooting was terrible or something else needed to be improved. I needed that kind of honesty.”

In addition to this week’s PWBA East Hartford Open, which runs Thursday through Saturday, the Pepsi PWBA Louisville Open (Aug. 8-10) and the PWBA Orlando Open (Aug. 15-17) are elite-field events.

Each elite-field event will feature a 32-player field, comprised of the top 24 players on the 2019 PWBA Tour points list following the U.S. Women’s Open and completed with an eight-game pre-tournament qualifier. Elite-field events will have 16 qualifying games before cutting to the top 12 advancers, who will bowl six additional games. The top five after 22 games advance to the stepladder finals.

The stepladder finals of each elite event will be televised live every Saturday night on CBS Sports Network. Along with the three elite events, the final two majors of the season, the QubicaAMF PWBA Players Championship (Sept. 3-8), and the season-ending PWBA Tour Championship (Sept. 15-18), also will have live finals on CBS Sports Network., the exclusive online home of the PWBA, will livestream the qualifying rounds for all events leading up to the live televised finals on CBS Sports Network.

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