Sophomore Sarah Brown was surprised when asked to talk about varsity bowling. A year ago she thought bowling would be a good way to make friends at Mentor High, and once she began she steadily improved.
“You have to work on hitting arrows and your marks,” she explained. “Keep your arms straight, just look for things you want to hit. And move your feet in a straight line.”
The interview was interrupted because it was Brown's turn to roll. She left three pins standing. “Don't worry, I'll get it, I'll get it,” she said to teammates as she retrieved her ball. Her next roll missed each target. But the next turn was a strike.
“My family is like, 'Oh, you bowl? Since when?' 'I bowled for two years. You didn't know that?' I'll tell them. Then I'll say. 'I lettered last year.'”
Next comes her point, and it's the point many varsity bowlers would like their classmates who play more traditional sports to know: “People take it for granted. They don't realize it's as much as it is,” she says. “And it's pretty stressful. You're under a lot of pressure.”
Bowling has only been an Ohio High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sport for five years. At Mentor, the program is in year three, and is made up of a boys' and girls' varsity team and a boys' junior varsity team. Each team competes against other schools in the Lake-Geauga-Cuyahoga League, a league devoted entirely to high school bowling.
Tuesday afternoon the team traveled to Ernst Lanes in Chardon for matches against Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, a parochial school located in Munson Township. In a league, 15 Mentor bowlers roll two games (their total pins are counted), then three “Baker” games. A Baker game is one where five bowlers take alternating turns rolling frames, each player going twice.
Mentor's coach Mike Phillips has been around the sport for 30 years. He originally went to the school and said he would coach Mentor's bowlers on a volunteer basis. Now that a leg injury prevents him from bowling himself, just being around the sport was all he desired. But the school turned him down and hired a teacher instead.
A year later, they asked Phillips if he was still interested; he's now coach in his second year.
Parents watch from seats above the pit, and often give encouragement to their sons and daughters during the match.
Junior Kevin Oravecz's parents bought him his first ball when he was 4 years old. “I went from bumpers all the way up,” he said. Oravecz hopes to bowl for his school's team in college, saying that states like Kansas and Arizona have the top-ranked schools.
Tommy Bumbarger, a sophomore, was drawing attention during his second game. Bumbarger rolled better than a 250, a very good high school score. “I did pretty good except that last Baker game,” he said, his teammates laughing behind him. “It felt great, I had a good line early. I have a great coach. I've been bowling for quite a while, I don't even know. My whole family bowls, so I love it.”
Junior Ryan Parr's friend got him involved in a league, and now he's been bowling five years. “I've loved it ever since, and I've started getting good,” he said. “Hopefully we get some good tournament stuff down the line and go far.”
The sectional OHSAA bowling tournament begins Feb. 18 at Freeway Lanes in Wickliffe.
The Mentor boys out-rolled the NDCL Lions that afternoon, and the lopsided win took them to 10-0 at the halfway point in the season.
Brandon Poplstein and Cody Gibson were the other two involved in the win.
Gibson said his friends at school can't believe he's on a varsity team.
“They go, 'Oh man, there's a bowling team now?' Hardly anyone knows about it because we just started it a few years ago. It must be the same at other schools. There's not that many bowlers on some of the schools we face.”
Mentor next bowls Thursday against Fairport Harbor's Harding High School and Monday against Eastlake North at Freeway Lanes, 7300 Palisades Parkway, Mentor. Matches start at 4 p.m.