I’m sure to many I sound like a broken record. But, my lone voice is quiet among the noise that surrounds us daily. As I’m sure most of you know, my personal crusade has been to educate bowlers, especially youth bowlers, about Bowling outside of the confines of our state (region for that matter). To that end we have a unique program at AMF Cranston which allows me to do just that…prepare bowlers to leave the area and compete effectively on a national and Collegiate level. It’s working, there are names and faces I’m sure you recognize which are now starting to shine as Junior, Collegiate, and adult Bowlers. But, admittedly the deck remains stacked against youth Bowlers in Rhode Island. Allow me to explain what I mean.
First lets go back a little over 5 years ago. My daughter Courtney and I were searching for a College and she wanted to bowl competitively while attending school. We looked at a bunch of schools and one stands out. We ventured down to Florida and visited a couple of schools there. One of them was Florida State University. A great school and, at the time, Mike Fine had just transferred there from a very successful coaching run with Kansas. As part of the discussion, Mike invited Courtney to Bowl with the women’s team during their practice. The first question she was asked by several of the team members was “how are you doing in your High School team?” They were absolutely astonished to hear there are no High School programs in Rhode Island…and for that matter I don’t believe Massachusetts and Connecticut had them at that time either. I could be wrong about that last statement though.
So, there in lies the problem youth Bowlers here are at a significant disadvantage since we are way behind the rest of the country when it comes to producing Collegiate ready Bowlers because the only outlet is the Junior programs in each house. I’m about to make a generalization based on my observation of Junior programs that I’ve observed. So, let me apologize in advance if I offend anyone. It’s not my intent to do so but, I know what comes next could easily irritate some folks. Junior programs are run by well intentioned adults who usually have children in the program. They do what they can and are usually involved for just a few short years but, don’t understand what competitive Bowling looks like. Most of the time they have no training as a coach and are not truly committed to coaching for the long haul. The only frame of reference most local coaches have is their once a week mixed league. So, we tend to develop Junior Bowlers who can very adequately fit that mold. As a whole, we do not understand how to develop a Bowler to compete at higher levels.
Here are some numbers for you to back up my claim. Some of you may know I coach Bryant University and when looking over the Collegiate guide provided by the USBC I found some interesting numbers…actually heartbreaking numbers to be completely honest. Of the 50 states that make up our great nation 20 (just under half) have full blown Varsity Bowling programs. The states closest to us are New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. 27 states have High School Club Sport programs. The closest to us include: Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine. There are three states in the entire country who have no organized programs at all. I’m sad to say, two of those are in the Northeast…Vermont and Rhode Island with Wyoming being the only other with no organized programs at all. Now as far as I’m concerned that is a sad state of affairs. How did we let this happen?
We have some organization throughout the region which provide at least some tournament experience. Programs such as the Junior Bowlers Tour (JBT) and the Northeast Junior Scratch Tour (NEJST) provide some outlet. But, nothing really beyond that. Even our state tournaments and travel league reflects the narrow point of view I mentioned above. So, youth Bowlers have few options if they happen to live here and have a big disadvantage when competing at higher levels.
When I got the wake up call, I decided to try and make an impact. So, I began working with youth Bowlers who wanted to be able to compete at that level. I could work with them and get their physical and mental games in shape, I could put them on the same tournament conditions and teach them how to approach playing on various Sport conditions…and yes introduce them into the world of Scratch Bowling…something the adult masses in our area run away from. But, what I could not do was offer them a venue to effectively put them into an environment where they were competing on a grand stage against the best of their peers. …it simply does not exist in our area.
I recall the absolute fear in the hearts of the young Bowlers the first year we went to Indianapolis for Junior Gold. They ultimately held their own and their eyes were opened for the first time. Now 5-6 years in, I lose count, the program is doing well and some youth Bowlers are realizing the differences and doing quite well on the national stage…some have gone on to bowl in top level national adult tournaments too. Mission accomplished for now, that was just a small step in what is no doubt a long war to try and do what I can to make an impact. Like I said, I’m just one very small voice. I’m hoping that soon one of the Juniors I’ve worked with along the way will decide to give back and also make an impact then there will be two voices and so on. The question is when will we collectively open our eyes and start listening to the small voices?