Colin Likas on preps: Bowling for interest?

Colin Likas on preps: Bowling for interest?

Some sports have long, storied histories with the Illinois High School Association.

Records in such ventures as football, basketball, volleyball and track and field stretch back decades.

Boys' bowling doesn't have quite that type of tenure with the prep sports organization. The IHSA in 2003 began a state series for males interested in the sport, while the girls' version dates to 1973. And while the number of institutions with participants in the regional-sectional-state boys' format has risen from 111 in 2003 to 215 this year, east central Illinois is mostly left out of that conversation.

All boys' bowlers in The News-Gazette's coverage area traveled to Tri-County Bowl in Jerseyville last weekend for regional competition. The group wasn't large, as a full team from Hoopeston Area and one individual each from St. Thomas More and Urbana made the trek.

That's not an exaggeration, either, when it comes to travel time, as the Cornjerkers' trip lasted in excess of three hours one way.

"It's a little tough," senior Cornjerker Chet Stock said. "It'd be nice if we could have some other teams around us, and maybe we could even get a regional that could be closer. But it's not a big deal. It's worth the sacrifice."

Stock is the lone area star who moved on to sectional action. His six-game output of 1,138 included efforts of 234 and 233 and placed him 17th on the leaderboard, good for ninth among those not advancing with a team.

"I think if (other area kids) just start to see some success in our program, that might spark an interest in some other youth bowlers," Stock said. "I think the sport is coming back. It seems to be getting bigger every year."

But high-school bowling seems to be facing an uphill battle in and around the Champaign-Urbana region due to a number of issues.

Lack of area competition

The boys' coaches at Hoopeston, STM and Urbana are all veterans at the alley. Cornjerkers coach Doug Wagoner, 61, started bowling when he was 9 years old.

Sabers leader Ted Burgin estimates he's been picking up spares for 40 years. And Tigers coach Roger Rudicil has a career that's run from age 8 to age 62.

One element each member of this trio pointed to in discussing the stagnation of interest in youth bowling is the family factor.

Wagoner said each Hoopeston Area competitor has a parent or grandparent who spends or spent time at the lanes, while Burgin and Rudicil both manage just one athlete at their respective schools — a familial relation.

Burgin's son, Spencer, qualified for the Jerseyville Regional going solo for STM, while Rudicil's grandson, Braden, did the same with Urbana.

The youngsters actually bowl together as practice, and the coaches do the same for fun.

While this setup may make for some unique bonding time, it also highlights an apparent issue of bowling not being passed down through as many families as it has been in the past.

"Over at Old Orchard (in Savoy), they have probably 50 kids out there that bowl," Roger Rudicil said. "Arrowhead (Lanes in Champaign) doesn't have any. Western (Bowl in Champaign) has maybe eight or 10. It's really kind of sad. It's hard to find any kids."

"I would think it'd have to be family-oriented," Ted Burgin added. "We came from Arrowhead and Western Bowl two years ago, and there were four two-man teams that made up a league. ... We've talked about that for years: 'What can you do to grow youth bowling?'"

IHSA conflicts arise

After Hoopeston Area established a bowling team in 2013 under Wagoner — with both male and female participants — the retired police officer got to learning more about local alleys' relationship with the sport's IHSA version.

And it turns out there wasn't much there to begin with.

"I don't want to put the blame on anyone in particular, but I think the bowling proprietors didn't realize the IHSA has it," Wagoner said. "So they haven't approached the school, or the school doesn't want to spend the funding for it."

That latter point has directly affected any chance of Urbana fielding a full squad, according to Rudicil.

"The biggest problem is, when I talked to (athletic director Steve) Waller, Urbana doesn't have any money to support a bowling team," Rudicil said. "I expensed all the testing and entry fees for Braden so he'd be able to participate."

Money lies at the heart of another possible issue. The IHSA bylaws state "players much cease non-school participation and competition 7 days after their school engages in its first practice" — something Wagoner called "stupid."

At the same time, the Illinois faction of the United States Bowling Congress, according to its website, offers more than $6 million per year to youth bowlers through its Scholarship Management and Accounting Reports for Tenpins program.

With kids having to choose between bowling at the IHSA level or competing elsewhere, even with as short as the IHSA season is (Oct. 23-Jan. 27), those facts throw another wrench into the creation of high school teams.

Then there's qualifying for the postseason.

For an entire team to earn a regional spot, it must compete in six interscholastic events during the regular season, according to IHSA rules. This creates a particularly pressing problem in the current east central Illinois landscape.

To get its fill of competition, Hoopeston Area had options in the Chicagoland area or closer to St. Louis, which means no short trips and more incurred costs.

Though it certainly leads to some interesting matchups for a school of only 396 students.

"(Playing against a team from) north of Rockford, they had 40-something kids on their team," Wagoner said. "And I asked how many kids they have. They've got 3,100. That's almost the size of Hoopeston. We're bowling against great-big schools, which is fine with us because we think we've got a team that's capable of bowling with them."

Facing postseason pressure

While obvious difficulties exist with getting bowling to stick locally at the IHSA level, having multiple area kids at the Jerseyville Regional was a positive step

Both Burgin and Stock described the contest as laid-back, but Burgin also noted a different atmosphere for those involved as individuals.

"The environment is very intimidating if you're not expecting it," Burgin said. "They all basically stand up at the approach when you're getting ready to bowl. As a single, you've got 15 kids standing on both sides of you."

Rudicil's biggest takeaway came from a physical property associated with the sport: the oil pattern. This is a key aspect that those unfamiliar with bowling's intricacies may never think about.

According to the Professional Bowlers Association website, oil first was used on lanes to protect them from wear and tear.

Though the construction of lanes has changed over time, oil has made the transition to the modern game.

The way oil is spread on a lane varies from alley to alley, something Rudicil said his grandson learned the hard way in Jerseyville.

"It looked like, from a coaching standpoint, from the second arrow to the second arrow, left to right side, it was flooded with oil," Rudicil said. "And then from the second arrows to the gutter, there was no oil. Kids are used to standing as far left as they can and bowling to the right. It took Braden a lot longer to figure out he had to stand almost in front of the ball return."

Braden Rudicil wound up with a 943 total over six games to place 55th, while Spencer Burgin's 1,089 compilation was good for 33rd.

Hoopeston Area as a unit landed 10th of 11 programs, rolling to a 5,155 total.

Stock said he was looking forward to representing the Cornjerkers at the Mt. Vernon Sectional, in which he bowled a 1,149 total with a top game of 215 on Saturday to conclude his senior campaign.

But he more enjoyed being part of some history with Hoopeston as the school tries to lead a charge in the area's IHSA boys' bowling scene.

"It's a great feeling," Stock said. "I think that was a big deal. Being our first boys' team to be able to play in a regional was just a great feeling for all of us."

Preps coordinator Colin Likas writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at@clikasNG.

Sections (3):Prep Sports, Sports, Other
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