CABOT When Mike Nash mentioned the high school bowling team he coaches to a local sports radio host, Nash was laughed off the air.
Yes, Cabot High School has a bowling team. So do many other schools in the state. The sport is regulated by the Arkansas Activities Association, and the team in Cabot is good. Very good.
“Cabot’s a real football town, and the girls basketball team is great, but our [bowling] teams have had three state championships in five years,” Nash said.
Six years ago, the athletic director at Cabot High School sent an email to staff asking if anyone would be interested in coaching bowling. Other schools had been competing for several years, but Nash — an AP history teacher at the high school for more than 15 years — had never heard of it.
“I thought, ‘Bowling? There are bowling teams?’” Nash said.
There were dozens. More than 70 schools in the state registered bowling teams with the state activities association for the 2012-2013 season. Of those teams, 25 compete in class 7A/6A, including Cabot.
Each season means 10 matches, along with two “Bakers Matches,” where top bowlers bowl alternate frames, creating more of a team sport.
Last season, Cabot student Shelby Smith set a state record after bowling a 700 total score in a series of three games.
“My mom and I had a deal going that if I shot a 700 series, I could get a tattoo,” Smith said.
The Christian fish on her foot is proof that the bet paid off, though Smith didn’t immediately realize that she’d broken the record.
“I wasn’t paying attention and thought I’d shot maybe a 650,” Smith said. “My mom had to tell me as I was walking away.”
After graduation this spring, Smith hopes to bowl for a college, though she isn’t sure which one quite yet.
Bowling is an NCAA-regulated women’s sport, but not for men. So while Cabot senior Dylan Wilson will likely continue bowling after he graduates, it won’t be for the University of Central Arkansas, where he plans to major in biology. But that doesn’t mean his time bowling was a waste.
“There are a lot of scholarship opportunities at tournaments,” Wilson said. “And even though I won’t bowl for a college team, I’ll keep it up while I’m there.”
Over the past few years, Smith has earned around $5,000 in scholarship money from tournaments.
While some students at the school are surprised when they hear about the bowling team, both Smith and Wilson said they aren’t teased for their sport. People who know are supportive, albeit a little naive about the game.
“It’s harder than people think,” Wilson said. “I’m usually bowling four or five nights a week.”
To Smith, the hardest part of the game is staying focused.
“The most important thing is your approach and mentality,” Smith said. “You have to be really positive.”
Smith and Wilson both credit Cabot resident Ralph “Pops” Pridmore with sharpening their skills. Named to the hall of fame for the Central Arkansas Bowling Association, Pridmore is the unofficial assistant coach for the Cabot team.
“He was always bowling at All-Fam and knew a lot of the kids and offered to help,” Nash said.
During competition, Pridmore and Nash have to coach from behind the pit area, where the seats are located. The majority of coaching is focused on helping with a bowler’s approach, footwork and release. A 10-minute warm-up before meets gives players time to see how the oil on the lanes will affect their throws.
“If there’s a lane close to a door where the oil has absorbed with the air coming in, they need to make adjustments for that,” Nash said.
Many bowlers on the Cabot team bring multiple balls with them to help with various throws. Over time, the equipment can become expensive, with shoe prices hovering around $200 and balls ranging from $70 to $200 each.
Nash said Cabot team members benefit from having lanes in their town. Many members of the team were already part of the All-Fam Bowl’s junior league before joining the high school team.
“We’re an Air Force community, and something nearly every Air Force base has is a golf course and a bowling alley,” Nash said. “Many of our kids have learned elsewhere with their family and continued it here.”
Nash said the team is looking to the girls team from Rogers and the boys teams from Benton and Bentonville to be the toughest competition this season. The Cabot girls team won state in 2009 and 2011, while the boys won state last year.
“This is a lifelong sport, and you don’t have to be 6 foot 4 and 300 pounds to play,” Nash said. “You don’t have to run fast. We have fun, and if my kids can come in and laugh, that’s worth it.”
Cabot will compete in the 7A/6A bowling conference championship at 11 a.m. Wednesday at All-Fam Bowl in Cabot. The top five teams from each conference, plus the top six individuals who are not members of a qualifying team, will go to state. The 7A/6A state tournament will be held at 11 a.m. Feb. 11 at Bowling World in Fort Smith.
Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or email@example.com.