Prep Sports: Steele gets bowling scholarship
By Mike London
Roneisha Steele rolled her first bowling ball at Woodleaf Lanes when she was 3.
Probably it veered off the alley and found a gutter, but every successful journey needs that first step.
“My mom (Ruby) bowled a lot,” Steele said. “Watching her and going with her to Woodleaf Lanesó that’s how it all got started for me.”
Steele, a recent North Rowan graduate, still isn’t weary of strikes, spares and splits, and her favorite pastime will go a long way toward paying for her college education.
Steele has signed a National Letter of Intent with North Carolina Central’s bowling program and will compete with the Division I Eagles this winter.
When people think of athletic scholarships, images of football or basketball flash through their heads.
Or maybe baseball. Maybe even track, the sport in which Roneisha’s father, Robert, became a Hall of Fame coach for producing state champions and national-level triple jumpers.
But there are also college scholarships out there for athletes in sports that aren’t high-profile and aren’t money-makers óas long as students have solid grades.
HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) such as N.C. Central have been aggressive in pushing lower-profile sports. These sports attract students from diverse demographics, including whites, Latinos and Asians.
“A lot of people don’t know it, but there is a lot of money out there in some of those other sports,” Robert Steele said. ” Schools like North Carolina Central are really pushing golf, tennis and bowling.”
Not to mention cross country, softball and volleyball. N.C. Central now has 12 athletic teams competing at the D-I level. Half are women’s teams.
And it’s not like the female bowlers only compete in their backyard in Durham. In February, 2008, the Eagle bowlers took to the air for the first time, flying to Tallahassee for a tournament held by Florida A&M, and they went back to the Rattler Invitational last season.
The Eagles go north for most of their tournament schedule. They have dates in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania so this is not a small-time operation.
Steele has a chance to be part of that adventure because she’s improved as a bowler over the years. She has a coach, Valerie Dowd, who works with her, and her mother knows the sport and offers advice.
Steele bowled at Woodleaf Lanes with North Rowan’s team her junior year and helped the Cavaliers finish second.
She’s also traveled far and wide to Jr. TNBA (The National Bowling Association) events. Tournament venues Steele has visited include Atlanta, Baton Rouge, La., and Kansas City. She’s participated in singles, doubles and team competitions.
The National Bowling Association has been around since 1939 and was formed by African-Americans who were barred from joining the white-run bowling organizations of that era.
Today, the organization has more than 70,000 members and is open to all. The association’s motto: “Sportsmanship, fellowship and friendship” sums up what bowling is all about.
While she enjoys bowling and is proficient at it, Steele was pleasantly shocked that her hobby turned into a scholarship offer.
“I really was kinda surprised,” she said. “I didn’t think I was good enough for something like that.”
She owes her scholarship opportunity to being in the right place at the right time.
Roneisha and her father attended a North Carolina Central football game last fall at the invitation of Marcus Gladden, an assistant coach at N.C. Central. Gladden was coached by Roneisha’s father, a longtime defensive coordinator for the Cavs, when he played at North Rowan.
The Steeles met N.C. Central bowling coach Karen Sanford, who was working the gate at that football game, and that conversation led to research into scholarship opportunities and athletic eligibility requirements.
Roneisha went to a tryout, and Sanford saw enough potential to get the paperwork started. Roneisha had to go through the full NCAA Clearinghouse process, no different than a basketball or football player.
The chance to bowl at Central was an answered prayer for Roneisha, who has older siblings living in Durham and has wanted to be an Eagle since she was in middle school. She plans to study law.
While she dreams about winning future legal battles, Roneisha practices at Woodleaf Lanes. Dowd said Steele normally bowls in the 140 range, but she wants her to bump her average 10 pins in the next few months so she can contribute to the Eagles as a freshman. N.C. Central was 14-63 its Division I debut in 2007, but the program has improved steadily since.
Steele will start conditioning and running with the Eagles in September. Weekend tournaments start later. Bowling is a November-February college sport, with a calendar similar to basketball.
When she heads to Durham, Steele will make a little more history for a family that’s already done serious ground-breaking in track and field.
She’s likely the first Rowan County athlete ever to sign a National Letter of Intent to bowl.