Recreation to competition: Nebraska high school bowling creates new opportunities

By J1 reporter Audrey Ehlers

Pictured is Junior Ella Mandolfo, representing Marian in their dual against Millard West, at Maplewood Lanes on Jan. 12, 2022.

Photo by Audrey Ehlers.

        A glossy, fluorescent ball whirs as it glides against the shiny floor. Ten pins shatter into silence and a light applause erupts from the back. Bowling is a common weekend activity, but it has taken Nebraska high schools by storm the past two years as it became introduced as an NSAA official sport. Though the game of rolling a ball with the intent of knocking down all ten pins seems self explanatory, junior Ella Mandolfo from Marian describes the legitimate playing rules and tactics from bowling meets.

        High school varsity bowlers have five active players each meet. Each of the five bowlers get lined up with a player from the opposing school, and the individual’s goal is to beat their opposition. The setup of a bowling meet is similar to recreational bowling. The first part of a meet is focused on the individual bowler’s score. It includes two games with 10 frames, and two bowls per frame. The last part of the meet revolves around the score of the team. Most meets are finalized with a baker’s round, which is team bowling. The five bowlers bowl one game as a group, each person going twice, with the hope of defeating their opponent. 

        A bowler’s score is determined simply from the pins hit from each frame added up. A spare and strike generate greater points. A spare counts for the 10 pins knocked down, plus the single next bowl. A strike counts for the 10 pins a player knocks down, plus their next two bowls. In order to win a meet, the team needs to get 11 points. Teams get one point for an individual beating another individual’s score and three points for whichever team has the most total pins knocked down. 

        The point system is where some strategy can play in. Mandolfo explains that teams will try to line up their best player with their dual’s worst player so that that singular individual point is guaranteed. As for a personal strategy, Mandolfo said, “I try to hit a certain mark on the floor each time I bowl. It’s hard to coach bowling, so finding your mark and way to roll the ball tends to be the best strategy since everyone bowls in a different way.” 

        Furthermore, Mandolfo explained the most challenging aspect of bowling: “You can’t play defense; you could have your best game but if the other girl has their best game too, you can’t do anything to prevent that.” Despite this, Mandolfo just “goes for it” every meet.

        Competitive bowling has given high schoolers like junior Greg Blaine from Creighton Prep an opportunity to participate in a school sport. Blaine has never participated in a high school sport before, but with the introduction of bowling he has managed to become a JV team captain. 

        Being the captain of the Prep JV bowling team has allowed Blaine to model his teammates. He encourages his teammates to “get real work done and bring their A game to the lanes.” Blaine said that “even on bad days the boys come together and lift each other up” which has become his favorite aspect of participating in a sport.

        Junior Ben Nodes from Central High School gives an insight to bowling at a co-ed school. He explains that while the boys practice at the same time as the girls, they have separate lanes and coaches. He describes the teams as “equally competitive, but the girls are a little more supportive and cheer every time their teammate does well, while the boys are quieter.” 

        Nodes bowls recreationally about every other weekend, and says that both recreation and competition are fun, but the applied pressure from coaches and teammates encourages him to do better during meets. While weekend bowling has music playing and loud group games, Nodes says that meets are “a quieter environment with parents and opponents watching, so it’s slightly more serious.” 

        What was once a weekend, recreational activity has turned into a competitive team sport for Mandolfo, Blaine, Nodes and many other high schoolers in Nebraska. While all three agreed that they love the competition, they ultimately just try to find the fun in self-improvement and relationships with their teams. 

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