Sunday, December 09, 2001

Bowling, but not for dollars

Sport enjoys renaissance in high school

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Erika Cooper, 18, a senior at McAuley.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        Competitive bowling teams at local high schools — the kind that used to be part of the Cincinnati prep sports scene in the 1940s and 1950s — are making a comeback. Thirty-five schools in Greater Cincinnati have bowling teams. Bowling could wind up being a fully sanctioned sport by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

        “If we're going to have a sport that's going to survive in today's market, we have to involve the high school athletic association,' ” said Frank Ruggerie, self-described “instigator” of the local prep bowling program and operator of Colerain Bowl.

        He knew he was onto something good when, after announcing the program last year, 80 youth showed up from Elder High School to try out for that school's two eight-man teams (one varsity, one junior varsity) and 100 youth showed up from Moeller.

        “We have the entire boys' GCL (Greater Catholic League), all but two (schools) in the girls' GCL and 11 schools in the Fort Ancient Valley League,” he said.

        The leagues began right after Thanksgiving and run through February. The teams bowl twice weekly.

        The program is in its second year. It grew from 19 schools last year. (In Ohio, there were 110 high schools with bowling teams last year; that's up to 250 this year.) There are 61 varsity teams bowling from the 35 schools. Seventeen bowling centers in Greater Cincinnati underwrite the costs: the bus to get the bowlers to the alleys; somebody to coach them; shoes, bowling balls and free bowling. The bowling centers will continue to underwrite the program for a third season, then see where it stands.

        “For me, it's worked out perfectly because I started high school last year and I've been bowling (for Seton) ever since,” said Amy Corbin, a 15-year-old sophomore, who carried a 190 average as a freshman.

        She is such a prodigy that her dream of landing a college scholarship for bowling is already regarded as realistic. There are 41 colleges who offer scholarships to female bowlers, Ruggerie said. Next year it becomes a fully sanctioned NCAA sport for women.

        Erika Cooper, 18, a senior at McAuley and a former soccer player and fast-pitch softball pitcher, rolled a personal-best 235 in practice last week. She loves bowling because “we go out there and compete and have fun without being yelled at” by coaches.

        “It's awesome — we work together; we encourage each other, and it's just a really positive atmosphere,” she said.

        Gary Crooker, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Bowling Association, points out that exposing youth to competitive bowling is the key to addressing the dramatic dropoff in league bowling locally and nationwide.

        Eight high schools in Northern Kentucky are getting a similar program started this year, Ruggerie said. There are programs in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. In Tennessee, bowling is now a fully sanctioned high school sport.

        “Of all the bowlers on the high school teams in the state last year, only 30 percent had ever bowled in a league format before,” Ruggerie said.

        Another plus is that 70 percent of the participants are not playing other competitive sports at their schools, which means a lot of kids now have an outlet for their competitive prep instincts.

        Ruggerie said one of his favorite sights was watching 22 prospective McAuley High School bowlers come through the doors of Colerain Bowl to try out for their school's bowling teams.

        “Only four of the girls had ever bowled before,” he said. “There they were putting on their funky rental shoes and having to be shown which fingers to put in the holes on the bowling balls. I said to myself, "This sport has a life.' ”


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