High school bowling teams becoming popular

Bowling is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and it is attracting high school students who want to participate in sports but aren’t inclined to join the more traditional ones available.

Jake Kealhofer, in his fifth year of coaching German-town’s bowling team, said bowling attracts a niche group of students. These students don’t always realize how competitive the sport is when they join the team, but it ends up fulfilling their desire for sports competition.

“Best thing about the sport I would say is finding those students who want to be involved, meet new people and participate but maybe don’t have the background that it takes to be competitive and play in those traditional sports.”

Kealhofer said it also is a sport that has little barrier to entry. While many of the bowlers on his team have their own shoes and balls, the bowling alley provides these items.

Freddy Ahrend, the bowling coach at Madison Central, echoed Kealhofer’s statements about the sport finding students who wouldn’t otherwise be involved in sports.

“The good thing about bowling is it is a sport that anybody can pick up,” Ahrend said. “You don’t have to be in super good shape. It doesn’t matter if you’re tall or short, small or big. It doesn’t require a lot of physical exertion, and you don’t have to run laps or lift weights to get ready for bowling.”

Ahrend has been coaching for 10 years and been at Madison Central for four seasons. He said his favorite part of coaching is watching the students make adjustments based on what he has told them and seeing the moment when it clicks. “Unless your parents bowled, most students don’t come on the team knowing what to do,” Ahrend said. “I can teach you how to bowl. So don’t let ‘I don’t know how or I’m not good’ stop you.”

Ahrend said there are about 15 school teams in central Mississippi. At the high school level, a team is limited to 12 players per team, but many schools carry less players. They are divided into two teams of three for simultaneous games by the A-team and B-team. While six players are in the match to start, substitutions can be made. There are three rounds for each team. Each win gives the team a point — making six points possible in a match. In the case of a tie of 3-3, the highest total points from the rounds wins.

Kealhofer said one thing that makes bowling unique is an increased home field advantage. Depending on the floor type a bowling alley has, such as synthetic or real wood, it affects the ball differently. Bowling alleys also oil their lanes differently which impacts the ball.

“Home floor advantage plays a huge role in bowling because the lanes from one bowling alley to another are different,” Kealhofer said. “There’s oil on the lanes and different bowling alleys have different patterns that they like to use. That is something else that makes bowling unique and plays into home field advantage versus an away game where you have to learn how to play on a particular lane.”

Kealhofer said they’ve been bowling well this year but have started the season off with lost matches. “I’m confident we are going to bounce back,” “Last year, we were having some issues with my women’s team getting enough people to join with COVID and everything, but we’ve got a full team this year and they’re bowling well.”

Madison Central’s bowling program is a bit older than Germantown’s and has been around for about 15 years. The last three years, the girls’ team has been very competitive becoming district champs twice and placing fourth at state last year. The boys’ team placed fifth in the state two years ago. With all of his starters returning on the girls’ team, Ahrend has high hopes for the season.

“We are hoping to defend our district championship,” Ahrend said. “Our real goal this year is we’ve got a shot at the state championship. This is probably the best team I’ve coached in my 10 years.”

For the boys’ team, he said it is another rebuilding year after losing a lot of seniors two years ago.

With so few spots available on bowling teams, both coaches said they’ve had to turn away players after tryouts, which is always difficult.

“There was a lot of interest in the bowling team this year, which was great, but it is always sad and difficult to make those cuts,” Kealhofer said. “There is a lot of opportunity to still get into the sport and the community even if you’re not on a team through high school.”

Most bowling alleys have league bowling, which is open to all ages and abilities. Fannin Lanes, where the Germantown team trains, has a junior league that is specific to high school aged students. Kealhofer said this gives the student the opportunity to join a team and learn to be better for the next year. Ahrend is one of the coaches for this league.

“If you’re really interested, every year at tryouts I say, ‘If you don’t make the team, don’t get discouraged and come out on Saturdays’,” Ahrend said.

Ahrend said he loves coaching at the high school level because it invests in the next generation of bowlers. With most league bowling participants being older, it is necessary to get a new, younger crowd excited about the sport.

“The younger you get involved with it, the better you get, and it is a sport you can play for your entire life,” Ahrend said. “Football, baseball, and softball players eventually get to that point in their ages where you have to hang up the cleats and you can’t play anymore. But bowling is something you can do from five or six and there’s people at the bowling alley still in their 80s. It’s something you can do all your life.”

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