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It’s a typical Monday afternoon at All-Star Lanes in Silverdale, and four teams of girls, high school bowlers, are heaving the heavy balls down the lanes, eyes focused on the moment they crash into a wall of pins.
Although they wear different jerseys, the girls see themselves as competing as a community, and that means cheering for the opponent.
Klahowya Secondary School, Central Kitsap, Bremerton and Olympic high schools all bowl from November through January, or February if they qualify for the state tournament.
The schools are highly competitive for postseason spots, but for the most part, female bowlers use the sport to display school spirit, compete for potential scholarships, or simply have a good time with friends and family, regardless of the logo on their shirt.
Unlike most other sports, the high school girls bowling teams play in a friendly atmosphere, singing the praises of the opposing bowlers and helping each other to improve their form. It’s not a hard task because the female bowlers are already buddies.
“We’re all so close by location, and we know each other outside of bowling, so to compete against them is pretty cool,” said Klahowya senior bowler Carys Bailey.
Bailey is playing in her fourth year with the Eagles, and said she cherishes every moment with the close-knit community of female bowlers.
Central Kitsap School District started girls bowling in 1995. Bremerton did so in 2003. In what may not be a coincidence, gymnastics is not offered in either district.
“I know some of the bowlers from the other teams, so to see them here is great,” Bailey added.
Loree Hippe has coached Klahowya for 12 seasons and said there’s something special about the girls bowling culture in Central Kitsap. The social atmosphere of bowling, Hippe added, is the main reason why the schools’ coaches and players get along, even in the most competitive moments.
“Bowling coaches like each other, we’re all friends,” she said. “We’re competitive, and we want our teams to win, but we’re also willing to help out the other kids on the other teams to help them improve so they enjoy it more. You don’t usually see other coaches who get along as much as we do.”
Most of the schools’ matches and practices are hosted simultaneously at All-Star, which became the central hub for bowling in Central Kitsap when Bremerton Lanes shut down last October.
Bowlers from each school are able to bowl and spend time with their friends, often interacting with high-fives and fist-pumps during games when they’re not sharing a bite to eat. They play on opposite ends, but it’s a much closer affair that goes beyond strikes and spares.
Central Kitsap senior bowler Taylor Nolan said she joined the team to have fun, and her favorite part of the season is the long road trips.
“We just sit on a bus for four hours and hang out,” she said. “It brings us closer together as a team.”
The student-athletes have various reasons for joining the bowling team. Bremerton senior bowler Rebecca Gardner said she used to be shy and reserved before bowling, but has since socialized more as a member of the Knights, while also showing school pride.
“When you’re bowling, you goof off and have a good time,” she said. “I wanted to be more involved with my school, and I figured this would be a great way to get out there.”
Central Kitsap’s Roanne Tagle joined the Cougars bowling team to stand out and have fun, even if it’s not the most well known team sport.
“It’s not that popular of a sport at school, but I thought it would be cool to try it out,” she added. “Nobody else I knew was doing it, and I wanted to be different.”
For some, it’s a family tradition to bowl on a regular basis. Bailey, whose sister Miranda also bowls for Klahowya, said she inherited her love for bowling from her parents.
“I started so young and I just went with it,” Bailey said. “Growing up with it I’ve always loved it. I never really questioned it. It’s just about going out and doing what I love to do.”
Olympic head coach Dave Colby led the Lady Trojans to two consecutive undefeated seasons en route to second-place finishes at the state tournament in each of the last two years. Colby, currently in his fifth year at the head of the program, coached two granddaughters, one currently, and said the girls bowling teams provide an outlet for student-athletes to earn an education through scholarships.
Colby’s first granddaughter on the team, Jessica Sutton, earned a scholarship to Lindenwood University (Mo.) after competing for the high school girls bowling team. He emphasizes the importance of a college education to his team, which includes his other granddaughter, Emily Sutton.
“That’s what I try to get across to these girls, there’s an avenue out for you,” he said. “There’s good bowlers, and if they’re planning to go to college then they should know there’s an avenue if your parents can’t afford it.”
Bremerton head coach Dean Wagner said families are the key to the sport’s popularity in Bremerton and Central Kitsap. Wagner, who led the Knights to a state title in 2008, is currently in his fifth year as head coach. He believes parents pass on the bowling tradition to their children who eventually try out for the team.
“In Kitsap County, the kids are pretty limited for things for them to do,” he said. “The parents of these kids grew up with three bowling alleys and it’s passed down. Having that friendship and teamwork and respect that it takes to be successful, I think it creates a secondary family for them.
“It’s a sad day for them when the season’s over. Even when we go postseason, we have to split the team because the varsity team only brings seven girls, so we have to work that much harder.”