Bowling is a sport on the rise, and Spring Arbor University (SAU) is the first school in the Crossroads League to have a bowling team. Both are comprised entirely of freshmen, with six students on the womens team and seven on the mens.
The Cougars will be competing in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) this winter because none of the schools in the Crossroads League have bowling teams. When asked which team will be the biggest competition, Coach Michael Hall is quick to mention
“They have a really good program that has been there for a while now, but all our bowlers have a 220 or better average, so I am confident we will be able to compete well with them
[Concordia],” Hall said.
The Cougar bowling teams practice three times a week at Airport Lanes in addition to 6:30 a.m. conditioning twice a week. The conditioning the teams are doing includes lots of sprints, lifting and burpees. The muscle groups Hall wants to target are the forearms and wrists, which are the primary ones used when bowling.
“They are doing sprints because they have to get used to seven or eight hour long tournaments,” Hall said. “In high school they only went for three or four hours.”
In tournaments, the top five bowlers from the mens and the womens teams are chosen to bowl for the Cougars on the tournament day, and each player begins by bowling six individual games. After the individual games, the players get into teams to play a Baker Game, where five of the bowlers get together and bowl as a group, combining their skills for an even higher score. The first bowler bowls the first frame, second bowler the second frame, third bowler the third frame and so on until they have finished the game.
In the tournaments, players use different types of bowling balls to achieve different purposes. One ball is covered in resin and curves more. The players bowl with it first, because they can curve it and knock down more pins. The next ball is plastic and is better for spares because it rolls straight. And the heavier the ball, the harder it will hit the pins because it has more momentum behind it. The average weight of a ball used, for both men and women, is 15 pounds.
A challenge for the players lies in the oil patterns on the lanes. All lanes have a layer of oil, but it is smooth and uniform when people bowl for fun. For the more experienced bowlers,
there are oil patterns put down on the lanes to make it harder to get a strike on nearly every opportunity. The oil is laid down so there will be hooks, curves and smooth parts in the lane. This forces the bowlers to be creative with their releases.
The Spring Arbor bowling teams are sponsored by Ebonite International, which provides all the bags and bowling balls for the team. The teams also have an advantage over other schools because they have access to a machine called a Strike Seeker. This records the athlete as they bowl and breaks down their form.
Practice begins with some stretches to warm up, and then a warm up game for the bowlers. During the warm up game, the coaches are able to go around and talk to them about footwork, approach and the best angles to take. After warm ups, they will do more specific drills to work on endurance, form and the precision of hitting a single pin. Almost all of the athletes have been bowling since they were toddlers. Hall found his recruits through YouTube videos and tournaments such as the Junior Gold Tournament.
Hall started the bowling program at Cornerstone, and he heard about Spring Arbor when SAU contacted him asking for information on how he got the program started there.
“After the initial call, I was kind of intrigued. I was working part time and looking for a full time position, which Spring Arbor had. I asked if I could throw my name in the hat, and my family and I visited here four times before I took the offer,” Hall said.
Assisting Hall this winter is Coach Rich Bradley, who is currently coaching at Western High School.
“Their practices go 2:30-5:30, and we go 7-9, so I’ll be pretty busy this winter… but I love it.” Bradley said.
You can truly see the passion the coaches and players have for the sport. Practices are focused and intense, and Hall said the fans and teams get competitive and crazy at
tournaments. They have their own cheers, trash talk and dress in crazy
attire to support their team.
Hall is working to make the adjustment as smooth and comfortable as possible.
“I always tell them I live close to campus, and if you need a break and want to come hang out, the doors are always open.” He laughs and adds, “They definitely take advantage of that, but I love them.”