By Kevin Albarez
BATON ROUGE, La. - With high school bowling continuing to grow in Louisiana, the sport took another step forward when 43 varsity teams from across the state converged on the Baton Rouge River Center for the 2012 Coca-Cola High School Invitational on Saturday.
The event, which started with the traditional march down Center Aisle, marked the third time a high school bowling tournament has been contested in the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships venue, and it gave the young bowlers a taste of the championship experience.
"Most of the bowlers were blown away by the facility," said Rick Bourgeois, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Commissioner of Bowling, who recently made his 31st USBC Open Championships appearance. "This venue really makes the bowlers want to compete in the Open Championships in the future."
The Coca-Cola High School Invitational normally kicks off the high school bowling season in Louisiana and actually got its start in the same one-of-a-kind venue in 2005 when the Open Championships visited Baton Rouge for the first time.
"One of the coaches today competed in 2005," Bourgeois said. "He enjoyed it and decided to bring his team to experience the atmosphere."
The atmosphere was electrifying, and the stands were filled to capacity. With each strike, the cheers got louder.
The event featured an all-Baker format, in which each of the five team members bowls two frames of the game. For example, the leadoff player bowls the first and sixth frames, the second player bowls the second and seventh frames and so on.
After five qualifying games and a five-game championship round, Archbishop Rummel of Metairie, La., took home the boys title, while Lafayette High School of Lafayette, La., captured the crown on the girls side.
"This tournament encourages the bowlers to participate," said Lafayette High head coach Keith Dhuet, who has bowled in 10 consecutive Open Championships. "They were very excited, and they want to come back to compete on the big stage."
Saturday's competition was held on the same lane condition more than 60,000 bowlers from across the country will face during the 151-day run of the 2012 Open Championships from Feb. 11-July 10. Some teams found the lanes to be difficult, while others enjoyed the challenge of a different condition.
"Our team was excited about bowling," Archbishop Rummel head coach Brian Bodenheimer said. "They knew it was going to be a difficult shot. They want to bowl on this shot more often because they know it will make them better bowlers."
Louisiana high school bowling has grown since becoming a varsity sport in 2005. A total of 1,000 bowlers from 67 schools (61 boys teams and 39 girls teams) have taken to the lanes this season.
Coca-Cola High School Invitational
Baton Rouge River Center, Baton Rouge, La.
1, Archbishop Rummel, Metairie, 820
2, Morgan City, Morgan City, 807
3, Terrebonne, Houma, 786
4, Barbe 1, Lake Charles, 782
5, Brother Martin, Marrero, 758
6, Archbishop Shaw, Marrero, 757
7, Ellender, Houma, 724
8, Lafayette 1, Lafayette, 712
9, St. Michael, Baton Rouge, 708
T10, Denham Springs, Denham Springs, 674
T10, St. Augustine, New Orleans, 674
1, Lafayette, Lafayette, 786
2, St. Louis Catholic 1, Lake Charles, 588
3, Morgan City, Morgan City, 569
4, Redemptorist, Baton Rouge, 560
5, St. Joseph's Academy, Baton Rouge, 548
6, Benton, Benton, 544
7, Central Catholic, Morgan City, 543
8, Denham Springs, Denham Springs, 496
9, Albany, Albany, 495
10, Barbe, Lake Charles, 446
Sponsors for the 2012 USBC Open Championships include Circus Circus Reno, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include the Belle of Baton Rouge, official brackets sponsor; Kegel, official lane maintenance provider; Humana, official registration sponsor; Bud Light and Budweiser, official beer sponsors; The Advocate, official publication sponsor; Brunswick, official lane provider; Steltronic, official scoring system; Storm Bowling Products and Nationwide Insurance.