Bowling might look easy, but becoming good requires years of practice.
And for even the best, the sport can be heartbreaking. A sixteenth of an inch can be the difference between a strike and a spare or a spare and an open frame. In turn, that fraction can spell the difference between victory and second place.
For Greenwood Christian Academy freshman Alexandra Ross, those fractions all went her way when she was crowned Indiana High School Bowling state champion Feb. 15 at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis.
She defeated Lake Central’s Kelly Belzeski with a final game score of 269. Ross was the top seed in the knockout ladder after bowling a 702 series in the qualifying. She rolled a total of 10 strikes in that match.
Many people will be surprised to learn bowling is a high school sport. While not sanctioned by the IHSAA, high school bowling is a club sport with heavy participation in the state, including 3,500 student-athletes competing in the various rounds of the state tournament.
And don’t think for a moment that these athletes are any less competitive than their better known counterparts in basketball or soccer. And the practice it takes to be in top form is no less time-consuming and demanding.
Ross’ performance is even more remarkable considering she has been bowling for only six years. Her father, Ryan Ross, who coaches the Greenwood Christian Academy team, said he began staying home in 2008 and was looking for something he and Alexandra could do together. They settled on bowling, and she participated in Kids Bowl Free, a national program sponsored by bowling centers around the country to promote interest in the game.
“She enjoyed it, but when she said she wanted to bowl in a league, we thought she would get tired of it after a while,” the elder Ross said. “But it just took off from there.”
The younger Ross started to excel at the game and said there were multiple reasons for it.
“The first year I started I had the highest average in the league I bowled in, so I thought if I keep working at this I have a shot at being pretty good,” she said. “I just liked having fun. It’s a different kind of sport than basketball or soccer. It’s a sport you can compete individually in and not have to worry about how good your team is.”
It’s also a sport she can continue with not only through high school and into college but throughout her entire adult life.
While the sport might not get the publicity of football or basketball, bowlers can continue playing at a top level far longer than players in those other sports.
Like many athletes, Ross has goals she works toward. She is active in the extensive junior bowling tournament network operated by the U.S. Bowling Congress. USBC sponsors a national championship event called the U.S. Junior Gold, and Ross will compete at this year’s event in July in Buffalo. Winning is one of her goals.
“I’d like to make the Indiana All-Star team. I’d like to win Junior Gold for my (age) division. I’d like to bowl in college, and I want to throw a 300,” she said.
Like its basketball counterpart, the Indiana All-Star team in bowling plays a match against a team from Kentucky. Unlike basketball, however, the team consists of top female bowlers from around the state, not just students. The top 16 bowlers from qualifying tournaments in Terre Haute this spring will make the team.
Ross is already beginning to attract some attention from college programs. More than 100 schools have interscholastic teams, with many more teams and scholarships available on the women’s side due to Title IX. Nebraska is the defending NCAA women’s team champion.
Clearly she doesn’t do it for the public attention. And given the large number of people who participate in the sport every week, it’s not a case of big fish in a small pond. Ross is clearly a pretty big fish already in a very large lake.
We salute Ross. A state championship in any sport is a significant accomplishment. It reflects not just natural ability but the dedication and practice that it takes to make the most of that ability.