PEORIA — While high school bowling is thriving in various parts of Illinois, the Tri-County area has been a virtual high school bowling desert for years.
According to IHSA archives, there have only been a handful of teams from Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties that have competed in the sport.
Bowling recently has been deemed a low-risk and safe sport by the IHSA, so student-athletes can start practicing and competing this season immediately. But there doesn’t seem to be the required interest to get the ball rolling, so to speak, in Peoria.
Interest for high school bowling in Peoria?
“What it would take is just some intense interest,” Peoria High athletic director Brien Dunphy said. “In the past we’ve had a club, so some kids have been able to participate. That’s kind of drifted away as interest has waned.
“There’s not a lot of expense — bowling fees, some shirts, and things like that. There would be travel, because there aren’t a lot of teams in the area that participate at the IHSA level. That’s what it would take, some competition, even as an individual.”
There also are other factors that are preventing area schools from adding bowling as a sport.
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“Richwoods wouldn’t have any plans right now to begin a bowling team,” Richwoods AD Ron Dwyer said. “The main thing stopping us is the craziness and unpredictability of everything else.
“I would like to get a bowling team going for the future, however. I have tried to start one in the past, but haven’t had much luck getting it off the ground. Bowling is a great and fun sport, and I hope it makes a comeback in the high schools.”
Which Illinois schools have bowling?
If Tri-County schools want to get involved, there are teams outside of the immediate Peoria area. A handful of area schools west and north of Peoria have bowling, such as Galesburg, LaSalle-Peru, Kewanee, Hall, Abingdon-Avon and St. Bede.
According to Stacey Lambert, the IHSA assistant executive director in charge of bowling, there really are no major roadblocks for area schools to overcome to add it as a sport.
“There would be nothing preventing these schools on the IHSA end,” she said. “I assume it’s a funding issue or participation issue on the schools’ side.
“Some could also be facing Title IX issues, if they were to only have interest in boys bowling instead of girls bowling. That could throw their balance out of whack.”
Most of the top bowling schools reside in Rockton, Rockford, the St. Louis area and the Chicago area. Over the years, Canton, Illinois Valley Central, Washington and Metamora have been among Peoria-area schools to field teams.
Some area schools have successful bowling history
Of the smaller schools outside the immediate Peoria area, Abingdon was one of the dominant teams early in the state series. The school won the first girls state title in the 1972-73 season, and posted two more firsts, two seconds and two thirds in a nine-year stretch. State medalists from the school during that span were Karla Cecil, Jill Eaton, Denise Epperson, Diane Hughes, Amy Weathers and Debbie Weathers.
Other area girls who have earned state medals were Tina Selkirk of Canton (5th, 1981-82), Linda Kay of Morton (12th, 1992-93), Samantha Cooper of Illinois Valley Central (8th, 1979-80), Suzie Cruz of Galesburg (11th, 1997-98), Estella Arteaga of Illini Bluffs (5th, 1989-90), and Melanie Decarlo (7th, 2007-06) and Kristi Tapscott (7th, 2002-03) of LaSalle-Peru.
The most successful boys individual entry at the IHSA state tournament was Nate Stubler, who set a couple of national records on his way to winning the 2016-17 individual state title for LaSalle-Peru. Stubler, a former member of Junior Team USA, also finished fourth the previous year.
Illinois Valley Central also had a few bowling teams in the 1970s and ’80s, and even won a girls fourth-place trophy in the 1979-80 season.
The Washington girls placed fifth in the 1977-78 state meet, just missing out on a team trophy under the guidance of coach Paul Cram.
“In addition to being a teacher and assistant football coach at Washington High School, I served as the intramural director,” Cram said. “One of the activities that I supervised was bowling at Plaza Lanes.
“About that time there was interest in starting more high school bowling, so Walt and Dorothy Kuykendal (former owners of Plaza Lanes) suggest that I try to get it started. The school administration approved, so we organized a team.
“We had to stop after a couple of years, because the girls could not legally compete on a high school team and junior leagues at the same time. I really had some kids who were great bowlers and great kids.”
Some high school bowlers have a conflict
The conflict was (and still is) that junior bowlers can earn scholarship money by bowling in leagues sanctioned by the United States Bowling Congress and in tournaments like the Illinois State Youth Leaders (ISYL) series of events run by Patti Mauerman.
“They can earn scholarships, but they can’t compete during the high school season without three waivers,” Mauerman said. “We’re hoping that this year, since their schedule is so off, that they will not limit them to three waivers. Otherwise high school kids are going to have to decide whether to compete in tournaments or the short high school season.”
The waiver rules have been tweaked for this season, according to Lambert.
“The waiver process has been updated for this school year,” she said. “Once genders reach the end of their natural season, they are free to participate without a waiver. For boys that is January 31, and for girls that is February 21.”
This year’s bowling season will consist of seven meets and will not have a state tournament. Now it’s up to the bowlers to prepare for the season and for tournaments.
“For bowling, you don’t need a lot of equipment, and you can do it on your own anytime,” Peoria High’s Dunphy said. “You can do it with your friends and practice regularly.
“It’s not like football and basketball, where you need your team to show up, heavy-duty coaching and all of the special equipment and space. There isn’t anything easier than bowling.”
But until there is more interest in adding bowling as an IHSA sport in surrounding schools, apparently it will not play in Peoria.
Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.