Photo by Keith McCoy.
Spain Park Bowling
Spain Park's Ryan Kendall is likely headed to Wichita State on a scholarship.
High school bowling has come to Alabama.
This season the Alabama High School Athletic Association declared that boys and girls bowling be designated an “emerging sport” — that is, one to be tried as a non-championship sport for a period of time to see if enough interest exists to make it a full-fledged state championship sport.
Both Spain Park and Hoover have bowling teams this year. Denise Ainsworth, who oversees the sport as director of programs for the AHSAA, said bowling was declared an emerging sport after a survey of schools indicated enough interest.
“Over the past few years, it’s been the fastest growing sport nationally at the high school level,” Ainsworth said. “We are always looking for ways to include more kids in athletics. Bowling is a way to reach a different group of kids who might not be interested in football, basketball or baseball.”
A major boost to the effort has been the cooperation from the bowling centers, which have agreed to provide lane space free of charge for two years, at least, plus free house bowling balls and shoes.
“The bowling centers have been just wonderful to work with,” Ainsworth said.
If at least 10 percent of AHSAA member schools have teams next year, it can become a championship sport once it is approved by the association’s Central Board of Control.
“We have 40 schools declared to participate right now, and we have right about 400 schools (in the AHSAA),” Ainsworth said. “So we’re right there. We think next year it should be a championship sport. “We’re excited.”
So too is Spain Park High bowler Ryan Kendall. He has a scholarship offer from Wichita State.
Many people don’t realize bowling is a collegiate sport. The NCAA sponsors women’s bowling as a championship sport, and the NAIA sponsors both men’s and women’s bowling as an emerging sport.
Wichita State bowls as an NAIA school, though they are NCAA in other sports. Spain Park bowling coach C.J. Hawkins said Kendall, a senior, is one of the top bowlers in the state, if not the best.
Kendall, who averages 221, has bowled seven 300 games. He bowls in a Saturday morning league at Brunswick Riverview Lanes.
“I went out to a bowling camp at Wichita State over the summer, and they said they were interested in me and then they offered me a scholarship,” Kendall said. “Right now, it’s partially academic, but we’re waiting to see if they make it athletic as well.”
He’s been bowling since he was 9 or 10, and he said his interest piqued when he visited an uncle in Chicago who took him bowling. He fell in love with the game, and it was suggested he join a league in Birmingham.
There are no NAIA men’s teams in Alabama, but there are several in Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky. Kendall has drawn some interest from some of those schools, but he’s really intent on going to Wichita State right now.
Most of the NCAA’s emerging sports are for women, prompted by the need to meet Title IX laws to provide scholarships to women. In Alabama, UAB, Alabama A&M and Alabama State all have NCAA Division I bowling teams. According to latest figures provided by the NCAA, there are 33 NCAA Division I women’s programs, 18 more at Division II and 10 at non-athletic-scholarship Division III.
That was not the primary focus for instituting bowling at the prep level, but if students can find yet another means to help pay for a college education, “that’s always a bonus,” Ainsworth said.
Gail Dent, a spokeswoman for the NCAA, said that its research group shows that in Division I in 2013-14, there were a total of 127 total equivalencies (scholarships) for bowling with 226 student-athletes receiving aid (at more than $3.2 million). In Division II, there were a total of 34 equivalencies with 131 student-athletes receiving aid (at more than $719,000).
The Spain Park teams, the girls coached by Hawkins and the boys by Stephen Hobbs, are made up of an eclectic bunch of youngsters, Hawkins said.
“We tried to get a wide range of kids from eighth grade through 12th grade,” Hawkins said. “We held trials for a week and kept the ones who were serious.”
There was so much interest that Spain Park actually had to cut about a dozen after the trials.
Hoover High’s team is a boys team but it has several girls on the squad. There were not enough girls to try out to have a separate girls team, coach Kelsey Nichols said.
“We have seven who are beginners and three who are league bowlers,” Nichols said. “I’m excited about coaching bowling. It’s a sport that doesn’t require a lot of athletic ability in that there’s not a size requirement, or speed or a strength requirement. It’s made for everybody.”
She said her team is excited to be a part of the first Hoover High bowling team and are already thinking about winning a state championship next year when it becomes a championship sport.
“We think there’s going to be a good fan base to come out and cheer for our bowlers. We’re hearing about them painting up and everything.”
Hoover’s team has a couple of middle-schoolers. They are actually some of the more experienced bowlers. Kenny Ealy is a 12-year-old seventh-grader.
“My brother started bowling, and I would come with him and I really got to like it. I think it’s really good, and I’ve met new people,” he said.
He bowls in a Saturday morning league at Vestavia Bowl. His best game is a 236.
Fellow middle-schooler Joseph Carter is also 12 and in the seventh grade. He bowls in leagues on Friday and Saturday. “It’s pretty fun to be on the bowling team. I just like bowling anyway.”
Junior Michael Byron is on the other end of the spectrum. He said he’s bowled maybe five times before joining the bowling team.
“I joined because I thought it’d be fun to be on the first Hoover bowling team. I knew some of my friends were going to, so I said, ‘Why not?’”
“I believe in athletics and in what it teaches,” Ainsworth said. “I think bowling will reach kids on the fringes, and I think also the interest is going to be really high because we’re already hearing about youngsters who are excellent bowlers in leagues already. There’s also the chance to involve kids with some disabilities.
Members of the Hoover team are Michael Byron, Brooke Carroll, Joseph Carter, Matthew Castillo, Kenneth Ealy, Islander Martinez, Mallory McClung, Matthew Russell, Meredith Vines, Noah Waters.
Members of the Spain Park team are boys Ryan Kendall, Ben Lapinski, Patrick Richey, Sam Lorino, James Waller, John Gatham, Bain Hamilton, Jason Deutsch, Andrew Harris, Alex Culwell, Ryan Caraway, Jalen Johnson and Devin Dowdell; and girls Mary Kathryn Bonamy, Mallory McCarty, Meg Moser, Destini England, Juliana Cross, Caroline Parker, MacKenzie Walker, Lindsay Parker and MaryKatherine Tedder.