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Strike force – High school bowling teams are a hit

By Susan Shinn

Salisbury Post

The pins are flying this afternoon at Woodleaf Lanes. Strikes and spares are the order of the day. Teammates exchange high fives, and the scores are high as well.

Welcome to high school league bowling sponsored by Woodleaf Lanes. Some 66 high school students have participated in the first of two six-week sessions offered this year. All six county high schools are represented, along with a girls’ team from North Stanly High School.

Some of the players come from a Saturday morning youth league for bowlers ages 3 to 21, but many are first-time bowlers.

The league is part of a national program of the U.S. Bowling Congress, and the bowling alley eventually hopes to attain club level, so that bowling will become a letter sport at the high schools.

The program is free for students, and the teams are all coached by volunteers, most of whom bowl in leagues at Woodleaf Lanes.

“It’s really bigger than we thought it would be this year,” says Chuck Powers of Woodleaf Lanes. “It’s very exciting to watch.”

Students from all four grade levels practice once a week with their team after school. Matches have taken place each Monday; the last match was Dec. 18.

Students are broken into three-player teams. On Dec. 18, eight girls’ teams and 14 boys’ teams competed.

The coaches praise their students for their enthusiasm and for listening and following directions.

“This sport is 99 percent mental,” says North Rowan boys’ coach Nathan Jones.

Kenny Mott, a senior at West Rowan High School, started bowling this semester. At first, his average was 89; now, it’s risen to 149, according to his coach, Vince Kotarsky.

Mott was encouraged by teammates to bowl.

“I liked my spin ball,” he says, “but my coach told me to change it. Now I bowl straight. It helped a lot.”

He continues, “It’s fun. You get to talk to people. It’s something to do instead of getting in trouble.”

West fielded three three-man teams.

Brie Kirkpatrick is a sophomore at North Rowan High School. She’s been bowling for 13 years and has a 188 average. She doesn’t bowl so much as she attacks the lane.

And the pins go down.

Standing behind his boys’ team, East Rowan High School Principal Kelly Sparger watches the the last match. Going into the finals, the East boys’ team was the overall leader.

“I haven’t bowled in years,” he says. “It makes me want to bowl. They are fun to watch. It’s good to see these kids involved in something positive.”

By sponsoring these teams, Woodleaf Lanes is making an investment in future bowlers, says East boys’ coach Tom Gillespie. In the last six weeks, he’s seen definite improvements.

“If you’re standing back watching, you can see things they’re doing,” he says, and make suggestions.

Suzan Morrison agrees.

“They’re doing really good,” says the West girls’ coach and program director. “They’ve dramatically improved their game.”

North Rowan’s Jessica Randlett has seen a 40-pin increase in her average, Morrison says.

One hour a week, Morrison adds, is not a lot of time to teach the basics.

But, she notes, “With my girls, if I ask them to do something, they try it. They actually care.”

“This is something everybody can do for now,” says Penny Hoover, North Rowan’s girls’ coach. As the program grows, students will be asked to try out for the bowling teams. “This is the start.”

Hoover says that larger cities such as Fayetteville and Raleigh have club-level high school bowling teams.

Sign-ups for the next six-week session in January and February will take place after Christmas break. Students can sign up either at their school or at Woodleaf Lanes.

Hoover’s 7-year-old son Dawson bowls in the Saturday-morning league. She notes that the bowling alley is smoke free whenever young bowlers are on the lanes — at matches, at practices and on Saturday mornings.

Other team coaches include Melissa Sheets, Salisbury High girls; Nick Paolino, Salisbury High boys; Valerie Dowd, North Stanly girls; Donald Frick, South Rowan boys; Alex Safrit, Carson boys.

For more information about the high school bowling program at Woodleaf Lanes, call Chuck Powers at 704-633-5342.

Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or sshinn@salisburypost.com.

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