In order to get to know the Greenfield-Central High School bowling team better, and learn how the young men rolled their way to the verge of a state championship, Daily Reporter sports editor Brian Harmon and sportswriter Jim Ayello visited their practice at Strike Force Lanes earlier this week.
And to gauge the Cougars’ true skill, they presented the ultimate challenge: Coach the sports guys — average bowlers, at best — for a few frames and continue to offer tips as Brian and Jim face off in a steel cage bowling match to the death.
Steel cage or death not actually involved.
Here’s how it turned out, in the sports guys’ own words.
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Brian: Kicking around this idea a few weeks ago, Jim, you and I agreed that, on a good day, we’re probably capable of bowling in the 130 to 140 range. And (spoiler alert) we were on the mark. I was fortunate enough to bowl a few games about a month ago, so I might have had a slight advantage going in. Because, as I judged from your first couple of practice frames, you were, um, a little more out of bowling shape. No offense.
Jim: Ah, so the fix was in! This is the first I’m hearing of what I will henceforth be calling “Warmup-gate,” which obviously gave you the upper hand. (Don’t mind me as I begin peppering in excuses throughout the column … Did you notice how windy it was while I was shooting?).
No, but you are right. I did have some rust to shake off. So much so that I felt sorry for the Cougars who had to coach me. After I threw my first gutter ball, I turned around and saw the, “Oh man, 10 frames isn’t nearly enough to help this guy” looks on some of their faces.
Fortunately, coach Brian Petrey didn’t deem me a lost cause right away. He found a heavier ball for me that helped me at least avoid the gutter. So tell me, Brian, how did your coaches react after seeing your first few throws? Did they give you any helpful tips?
Brian: Besides the general fun of bowling — if a person, regardless of skill, can’t have a good time at the lanes, there’s something wrong with them — and hanging out with you and Tom (staff photographer Tom Russo, on hand to document the event), the most enjoyable part of the evening was talking with the Greenfield bowlers.
The Cougars’ girls team, which had its terrific season end at semistate over the weekend, volunteered to coach you. Jim, they either thought you were cute or felt sorry for you. The fellas, including Garrett Hensley, Zach Knopp and Eli Williams, gave me some assists, as did Petrey.
As soon as Petrey began talking about the “geometry” and “angle of impact” involved with an ideal strike, I began to realize the technical skill involved with being an elite bowler. Much like golf, anyone can get out there and participate. These guys, however, through endless amounts of practice, are operating on another level in terms of concentration and talent.
I’ll be rooting for the Cougars — including Clayton Spegal, Jonathan Harnish, CJ Blagburn and Ryan Hubert — when they compete in the program’s first ever State Finals on Saturday at Cooper’s Sport Bowl in Anderson.
Jim: I’m glad you mentioned golf. It has long had the reputation of being one of the most difficult sports to master, but after Wednesday’s session, I’m not sure bowling gets its due in that conversation.
The focus and hours of practice required to be able to repeat the same arm action over and over again is an intimidating proposition for an amateur bowler like me. Add to it knowing that the slightest deviation could mean the difference between a strike and knocking over a couple of pins, and the mental aspects of the game could drive you nuts.
And let’s not forget the adjustments you have to make after throwing the first ball and seeing your splits. Cougars bowler Emily Paschal was extremely helpful in that regard. She moved me all over the lane, helping me pick up spares I never would have sniffed otherwise. She’s the reason you were only up by one heading into the eighth frame. Unfortunately, she could only do so much. … (This is the part where you get to begin gloating. I appreciate your restraint thus far).
Brian: Modesty is one of my countless tremendous qualities. Indeed, I was barely ahead, and then went strike-strike-5 in the 10th frame to pull out a 143-133 victory. I was then awarded The Bowlitzer, a trophy nicknamed by Petrey.
I don’t think I would have won if not for a late suggestion by Hensley regarding where I was lining up. That advice went against my natural inclination; obviously, that’s why he carries a team-best 207 average. And, their top female bowler, senior Eryn Ellis, would likely be competing in the girls State Finals this weekend if she had not torn her rotator cuff at the semistate. Ellis finished the year with a 205 average, ranking seventh in the state among prep bowlers. Including New Palestine’s Aaron Pierson (fifth among all Hoosier boys at 224) and the Greenfield-Central lads, Hancock County claims some of the state’s very best bowling talent.
They do most of their practicing at Strike Force lanes here in Greenfield, where owner Rob Barnhart was kind enough to set us up for our competition. I’m glad to have won, if for no other reason than to see the chagrin on (Daily Reporter photographer Tom) Russo’s face. I beat him in a media go-kart race at New Castle a few summers ago, and it was killing him to see me triumph again over a fellow employee.
Jim: Well, you didn’t leave much left to say other than to once again thank the Greenfield bowling teams for taking time out of their busy and pressure-filled week to teach us the finer points of their sport. We sincerely appreciate it.
(Sigh) I suppose I should also congratulate you on the Bowlitzer. Congratulations. You earned it. That said, “Warmup-gate” will forever be the asterisk next to your tainted victory.