Gorch on the Porch: No change with H.S. bowling for now

Photo by Steve T. GorchesLa Porte's Haleigh Sowards rolls a shot during the Preseason Bowl-O-Rama last month at Stardust Bowl II in Hobart.

It’s status quo for the time being when it comes to Indiana High School Bowling.

The talk amongst coaches and parents last week at the Lakeshore Conference meets in Hobart was whether high school bowling was on the verge of becoming a Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) sanctioned after being a club sport funded and run by the Indiana Bowling Centers Association (IBCA) since 1999.

After a meeting that ran on Wednesday and Thursday, the short answer is no. The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

The IBCA held its annual meeting this past week, and IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox attended to give the latest update on whether bowling was any closer to being added to its list of sports.

In May, the IBCA board asked Cox if the IHSAA was interested in adding bowling, and the executive board approved. The next step was to poll member schools’ principals to see what they said.

Cox told the IBCA board and Indiana High School Bowling commissioner Steve Kunkel that it would take 75 to 80 percent approval from the principals before considering it as a sport. The news Cox brought to the IBCA on Wednesday was that only 53 percent said yes.

So what’s next for the IBCA?

“If we want it to be an official sport, we need to lobby principals to vote yes,” Kunkel said. “They have their spring meeting in March. A principal will have to ask for the consideration to be put on the agenda, and then their board will consider.

“If we feel we have changed enough votes, we can ask for a re-survey.”

Or if the IBCA has convinced about 100 principals to vote at all. You see, Cox said that out of 410 emails sent to principals, only a little more than 300 were returned. So many didn’t respond.

Or, in the case of first-year Michigan City High School principal Candy Van Buskirk, didn’t get an email at all.

Van Buskirk told me she searched through her email for the words “IHSAA” and “bowling” and found nothing since she started on the job in June. It’s possible the IHSAA sent an email poll before she started. But if she had gotten it, her answer would have changed that 53 percent for the better.

“I have two nephews who bowl in Ohio — one of them is a PBA (Professional Bowlers Association) member,” she said. “I definitely think bowling should be sanctioned. Anything to get more kids involved in athletics.”

Thing is, lots of kids already bowl for their school club team, and successfully, too. City’s teams have both advanced far in the postseason recently. The boys reached the state finals last year, finishing runner-up. The girls advanced to semistate two years ago.

If you ask the coach of that girls team, he’ll tell you that the status quo is just fine.

“I do not like it at all,” City girls coach Jerry Keppen said about the possibility of IHSAA sanctioning. “It’s bad for the kids, bad for bowling. There are too many scholarship opportunities out there for kids (in bowling) that would disappear.”

La Porte coach Keith Gakle, who also bowled for the Slicers in the early days of the program, agrees.

“I think there are more negatives than positives,” he said. “Girls participation has dropped across the state, so maybe (the IBCA) thinks an IHSAA endorsement would help. I’m not so sure.”

Yeah, I’m not sure either, Keith. In fact, talking to athletic directors over the years on this same subject (I also wrote multiple columns on IHSAA sanctioning at another Northwest Indiana newspaper), a large chunk of them want nothing to do with bowling, especially at the larger schools.

An exception is Portage, which actually pays its bowling coaches a modest stipend and go through the same red tape as other high school coaches (signing a contract, background check, etc.).

For the most part, smaller schools, such as Westville, would welcome bowling.

“Principal (Alissa) Schnick came to our meet last week; they’re impressed that our program has grown,” Westville bowling coach Randy Lohman said. “We get letters and I have a contract with the school.”

The Blackhawks have increased the number of bowlers to 25 this season — more than most large schools in the region with five or six times the enrollment. So how would IHSAA sanctioning help Westville more than good old-fashioned hard work has already done?

Bottom line is that anyone involved with bowling or who loves the sport shouldn’t want anything to do with the IHSAA. Chanes are, the IHSAA won’t waive the rule that athletes can’t participate in their sport outside of high school during their season — in bowling, that means weekend scholarship tournaments or Saturday morning leagues. And speaking of the scholarship aspect, those would be illegal, too, under IHSAA rules because it’s considering “pay-for-play” or improper “gifts.”

No leagues would devastate local bowling centers. No scholarship tournaments would hurt kids who already are behind the eight-ball when it comes to trying to pay for college.

Sounds like the status quo works just fine.

Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at sgorches@thenewsdispatch.com or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.

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