Gorch on the Porch: Why bowling isn't an IHSAA sport

Photo by Steve T. GorchesMichigan City's Braydon Hervey throws a shot during practice on Thursday at City Lanes. The Wolves were competing in the high school bowling state finals on Saturday at Pro Bowl West in Fort Wayne. The stepladder finals did not finish in time for this edition.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — As long as I’ve been involved in high school bowling one way or another, there’s always a handful of parents or just normal fans of teams that ask the same two questions.

“Why don’t schools give the bowling teams more recognition?”

“Why isn’t bowling a sanctioned sport in Indiana?”

They’re sort of related, but shouldn’t be, and now is the perfect time to inform people who might not know the skinny on Indiana High School Bowling (IHSB) as the 18th annual Indiana state finals took place on Saturday at Pro Bowl West in Fort Wayne.

First, the question of why schools don’t give bowlers more props for their accomplishments is beyond me. Heck, even in Illinois where the sport has been sanctioned for several years, bowlers have complained about a lack of recognition. From my experience as a coach for an Illinois boys program for six years (2009-15), it’s more on the coach and athletic director than anyone else. At Mount Carmel in Chicago, I made sure to give updates to our athletic secretary — being in the media for the entire 21st century has taught me that valuable lesson — and our athletic director actually showed up at big conference meets occasionally.

In Indiana it’s a different story. As the Michigan City boys and Chesterton girls competed late on Saturday to bring home a state title, neither had any school teachers or administrators in attendance.

Now Fort Wayne isn’t a short jaunt, so I won’t blame anyone for not traveling that far. But when the kids return to school on Monday or Tuesday (depending on if they get President’s Day off), there better be an announcement for all to hear about how the kids did in Fort Wayne, win or lose.

Now for the more important question of why bowling isn’t an Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) sanctioned sport.

Well, simply put, the IHSAA won’t acquiesce to softening on some of its rules regarding competition outside of high school play, and the Indiana Bowling Centers Association — which runs the IHSB program — won’t back down from keeping the best interests of the kids as its top priority.

You see, the IHSAA has limited participation in certain individual sports (tennis and golf, for instance) outside of high school. Golfers can compete in two non-prep tourneys during the season. So that could carry over to bowling. But the kicker is that the IHSAA would not allow bowlers to compete in youth leagues — the backbone of many bowling centers on Saturday mornings — and considers scholarship money earned outside high school to be illegal acceptance of money or gifts.

“They might be willing to adjust, but that would be a by-law change and couldn’t be discussed until we were sanctioned,” said IHSB commissioner Steve Kunkel, who has been involved with the program since it began in 1999, and is the go-between with the IHSAA. “In Ohio, and maybe Illinois, the best high school bowlers don’t always bowl because they aren’t allowed to bowl other (leagues or tourneys).”

To add to the Illinois reference, he’s right in that the bowlers I coached couldn’t bowl in their leagues from early November through January, and yes, some of the highest average youth bowlers didn’t compete in high school because it wasn’t advantageous to their future.

Another issue with IHSAA sanctioning would be finance. Right now the money for practice time and matches and uniforms for the 203 schools with bowling is financed by a combination of centers, teams and in rare instances, schools themselves.

“Schools that finance it themselves are definitely the minority,” Kunkel confirmed.

If bowling became sanctioned, there’s also no guarantee a school would accept a team since they’d have to pay the coach, not to mention the practice and meet fees.

Even if the bowlers stood outside of their own school and protested, the school doesn’t have to have a bowling team — or any other sport. There are several area schools without swimming or gymnastics or tennis or golf because of numerous reasons (not enough participants, lack of financing, no facility, etc.).

Bottom line, bowling is better without the IHSAA since the organization and schools might be fair to the bowlers. It’s up to schools to start being more inclusive and give bowlers some kudos among their classmates.

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

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