ST. CLAIRSVILLE - It was all about the kids when the late Joe Holubeck offered St. Clair Lanes as a free venue for Ohio high school bowling clubs seven years ago. Now that the high schools have begun to officially sanction bowling as a school sport, Joe's son, Gary Holubeck, carries on the tradition.
"I'm just following in his footsteps," Gary Holubeck said as students from seven different high schools gathered at St. Clair Lanes to compete. Bridgeport, Union Local, Buckeye Local, Martins Ferry, St. Clairsville, St. John Central and East Richland Christian high schools were all represented, occupying the entire bowling alley.
Ken Campanizzi, former bowling coach for Martins Ferry, said the program's mission remains the same as it was seven year ago.
Photos by Daniel Dorsch
From left, back row, Garrett Spielvogel, Austin Uhl, Austin Bennett, Alexis Willis, and from left, front row, Joey Donbeck, Cordell Bennett, and Brianna Reynolds, all of Bridgeport High School, wait to bowl at St. Clair Lanes in St. Clairsville.
From left, Becky Lewton, 15, sophomore, Kacey Toto, 15, sophomore, Courtney Durbin, 16, sophomore and Katie Merritt, 17, junior, all from Buckeye Local High School, await their turns bowling at St. Clair Lanes in St. Clairsville.
Photo by Dan Dorsch
"This takes kids off the streets and away from the computers," Campanizzi said. "Hats off to Gary and his family."
He said students from all over the area get together at the bowling alleys to practice, compete and socialize.
"This sport is growing tremendously," Union Local coach Katie Fischer said. "A couple of the coaches here are really taking an interest. This is our first year doing bowling as a sport, not a club. Holubeck lets us use the lanes for free. All we have to pay for is uniforms and equipment."
"It's unbelievable, the energy in here," St. Clairsville coach Mike Heath said. "It's a way to get students more involved. This sport does not care how fast you are, how tall you are, or how high you can jump. It brings confidence to kids who usually wouldn't compete. There's nothing like seeing kids make their shots and get cheered by their teammates and fans."
Skilled students can bowl their way into higher education, as program coordinators noted that the sport offers a wealth of scholarships.
"The scholarship opportunities are incredible," Heath said. "Kids can enter tournaments and win boatloads of scholarships. It's really, really awesome."
Heath said his own son has won more than $1,000 in scholarship money just by placing in a few tournaments.
"I know kids that actually won $500 to $1,000 for winning tournaments," Heath said.
"Colleges have shown interest in some of these kids as well," Holubeck said. "Maybe in the future, they could be bowling at the collegiate level."
Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University are among institutions Holubeck said have been scouting at events.
Students participating vary in age, size and gender.
Their reasons for playing are also different.
"I've been doing this for a few years now," said Megan Stull, 18, a senior at Union Local High School. "I got started doing this with my family."
Casie Kyer, 17, also a senior at Union Local, said she started playing more recently.
"I've only been bowling for two years," Kyer said. "I wanted to try something new. It's just something different."
Holubeck said he wants high school bowling to keep growing.
"We have over 100 kids in the program, but we always have room for more," said Holubeck. "We hope to expand. We would like to get teams from the northern part of the Ohio Valley involved as well, perhaps get some tournaments between north and south or across the Ohio River."
He added that any schools forming teams and seeking a venue can contact him at 740-695-3641.
The Division 1 Eastern Ohio Sectional Tournament for girls teams will be held Feb. 9 at St. Clair Lanes. The boys sectional tournament will be Feb. 16, and the district tournament will be Feb. 23. The tournaments are open to the public. Friends, family and fans are encouraged to attend.