MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The newest sport sanctioned by the Alabama High School Athletic Association is picking up steam and reaching one of its top goals: creating opportunities for more students to participate in team sports.
High school bowling was a girls’ only sport from 1972-78 that returned to the AHSAA beginning in the 2015-16 school year for both boys’ and girls’ teams. The third state championship tournament – featuring the top 16 qualifiers (boys and girls, so, 32 total teams) – will be Jan. 25-26 at Pelham’s Oak Mountain Lanes following regionals in Tuscaloosa (Leland Lanes) and Foley (Gulf Bowl) on Jan. 18-19.
“We are so pleased that bowling has been embraced by our schools,” AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said. “We have almost 200 teams this year and every team has students participating who may not be inclined or interested in playing another one of our sports. Bringing as many students as possible into a team environment where they can learn how to compete and the benefits of good sportsmanship is our goal. Spain Park won the boys’ state championship last season and Southside-Gadsden won the girls’ crown.
“We also have wonderful coaches giving their time and teaching these student-athletes how to pull together as a team and sharing in the fun at the bowling alley!”
Vestavia Hills boys coach Todd Evans said getting students not normally involved in athletics benefits the students and the team. He said his squad is made up of students who are high achievers academically. “I think this is opening one more door where we can reach a different type of kid,” he said. “For the most part, we do get students who don’t complete in anything else.
“Even though you may be in honors classes, it is important for you to have to compete in an arena where all eyes are on you and you can’t hide the result that you are producing.
“When it comes to bowling, these guys have a high level of self-confidence and they feel comfortable doing this,” Evans said. “I think it is good for them to be on a team with people who aren’t necessarily like them because the world is like that. It teaches them about other people.”
Not all bowlers are just one-sport athletes. Jon Kilgo of Gadsden City High rolled a perfect 300 game in the first state tournament. This year, he set an AHSAA state record with a 92-yard punt for the Titans.
Jason Davis coached varsity football for 23 years, baseball for 20 and is now in his fifth year as softball coach at Auburn High. He is also in his second year as the bowling coach. “I’ve been coaching a sport for 24 years,” Davis said, “and I would say a majority of my coaching has been with kids who want to miss class to go to a sporting event. This is my first time coaching where kids don’t particularly want to miss class!
“Auburn High is a big social media school and the students getting their scores and recognition tweeted out has been a big deal for them. Bowling provides an opportunity for students who may not participate in another sport to be on a team. It gives the students another environment to be in.
“The students who have joined the bowling teams, for the most part, are kids who have never participated in a sport – which is good and bad,” Davis said. “The good being they appreciate it more and the opportunity to play. At the same time, a team environment can take some adjusting to and competition in general can be a learning curve.”
Suha Mohiuddin, a senior at Vestavia Hills who joined the bowling team as an eighth-grader when it was a club team, was intrigued by the competition and prospects of being part of a team. “When I heard announcements for sign-ups, I thought it was an interesting concept,” she said. “I didn’t really know what it was, but when I saw the competition, where every pin counts, I liked the competitive atmosphere. Being on the team helps me think about how I can be a leader since I’ve been on the team longer than other people around me. Working together is always fun, but there is always the individual struggle as well.”
Bowling also brings the students, coaches and parents together in a community setting. Tommy Barberini, the general manager of Oak Mountain Lanes in Pelham, called high school bowling a win-win. “We want kids involved in bowling,” said Barberini, who is also the president of the Bowling Proprietors of America for Alabama and Mississippi. “Coach Savarese wanted this to happen for the high school students. This was his vision.”
Barberini said the bowling centers that work with the AHSAA teams provide discounts for lane and equipment rental in order to help the sport grow. Already, Oak Mountain Lanes is planning to bring in five sets of bleachers to handle spectators for the finals, Jan. 25-26. Bowling will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, at 8 a.m. on Jan. 26 with the finals scheduled for 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased in advance at gofan.com.