ARLINGTON, Texas - While it's true you don't know what you don't know, North Carolina's Sharon Pratt knew there was more she could do for bowling and where she could find the tools that would help her facilitate one of the greatest comebacks in the sport's history.
After four years on her local United States Bowling Congress association board of directors, Pratt felt her passion and skills were being underutilized. Rather than keep waiting for a change, she decided to lead the change that would transform the Piedmont USBC.
She didn't know how the local bowlers and seven bowling centers would respond to change. Or that she was a woman. Or that she was a Black woman. But, she pressed on.
Pratt first ran for vice president of the association and began learning all she could to help the organization grow and empower the board to make progress.
During the 2017-2018 season, she was elected president of the Piedmont USBC, and the her work officially began.
"I am honored to be in this position and to be able to help our association and our bowlers," Pratt said. "After being a board member, I was excited to take on a bigger role and help things continue to move forward."
Like many challenging projects, Pratt and her team needed to tear the association down to the foundation, before building it back up with knowledge and clear goals.
The first thing they did was put together a training manual for the board and then work to make sure everyone knew and understood their roles.
They then learned about hosting events, running brackets, inspecting lanes, policies and procedures, bylaws and membership, followed by putting together information packets for league secretaries.
With their state representatives and regional manager as resources, Pratt and the Piedmont Board organized a summit with local proprietors to serve as a meet and greet and allow the board members to get a feel for what the proprietors wanted and expected from the association.
A second-year summit also included league officers, gifts, awards and more great discussion about how to keep the organization moving forward.
A perfectly timed opportunity for Pratt and the Piedmont team was being able to attend a running of the USBC Association Leadership Academy.
The program brought association leaders from around the country to the International Bowling Campus and allowed participants to learn directly from USBC staff members and collaborate with others like them. The two-day event included a variety of workshops, assessments and action planning to engage associations into stronger service.
"Our trip to the ALA was right on time, because we needed all the training and guidance we could get," Pratt said. "We were basically starting over, right down to our empty cabinets. Those who thought they knew things were very surprised at times, but everyone was so open-minded and ready to help us succeed."
Pratt will be the first to admit she, too, didn't initially understand the magnitude of her role or the task at hand, but the challenges only motivated her more.
With some objectives clearly defined and training underway, Pratt made sure to also establish a clear succession plan. The association's vice president knew how to run a meeting, board members learned to serve different roles and committees each had a chair and co-chair.
Switching up responsibilities and cross training meant continuity and that anyone could step in if someone had to step out.
"When I first ran for president, I guess I didn't really understand the scope of it all or the fact that more than 1,900 members would be looking to me for guidance," Pratt said. "When I sit back and look at where we came from in this journey, I am so excited and proud I could sit down and cry about it. Morale is so good, and I'm surrounded by people who are motivated and willing to get out there and work. We're probably 80% there. In my mind, though, we're already 100% ahead of where we started."
Despite being weeks from her 65th birthday, Pratt hasn't slowed down one bit.
She still works full-time for Hanes Brands Inc., where she has worked for more than four decades. She also serves leadership roles for a church group of more than 50 people, a social group of more than a dozen people and an eight-member traveling bowling group.
No one would deny Pratt is a hard worker, and she takes pride in the fact that she likes to lead by example. For anything she asks others to do, she's willing to get in the trenches and do the work, too.
"I remember working with Sharon at the ALA, and we had many side conversations, even outside of the traditional education time, because of all their association was going through," said Mike Larsen, USBC's Director of Associations and Membership Operations. "You could just tell she wanted to do great things but was looking for help to ensure she was on the right track.
"David Fields, their regional manager, recognized right away that this was someone he'd be working with closely in the months to follow. We have seen others in this position looking to help make a change in an association, but they end up getting frustrated and don't see their early vision through. Sharon's commitment to what she started has been rewarding for all of us who have worked with her these last few years."
Pratt, who also got to attend the USBC Convention with association manager Pat Holiday, is far from done leaving her mark on the sport of bowling.
A lifelong bowler who started out with duckpin bowling, her recent studies and experiences have left her both intrigued and surprised by the roles Black bowlers have played in the history of the sport.
One of her personal goals is to bring more diversity to her association, both among the membership and within the board of directors. Ultimately, being more diverse and well-rounded will help them serve the community better, while also making sure everyone is included and represented.
Pratt also has made it a point to make herself accessible to the bowlers and proprietors with regular in-person visits and open dialogue. And, even though the association doesn't yet have its own website, the Piedmont USBC Facebook page has added another helpful dimension to the bowling community, allowing information to be disseminated and feedback to be delivered.
With the association on solid footing, much attention now is being turned to the next generation of bowlers. While Piedmont's membership includes more than 1,900 adults, there's currently less than 75 youth bowlers.
"The board is so eager to learn and share, and we've now got board members scheduled to go through training to become USBC-certified coaches," Pratt said. "In order for us to grow our youth program, we need to have coaches to teach them about bowling. We need to get into the schools. We need to do everything we can to get the children and students excited about bowling, so can continue our growth and success."
Not far into the future, the youth bowlers also will be incorporated into the Piedmont USBC Board of Directors. Along with racial diversity, Pratt believes it is important to have age diversity and input from bowlers of all ages and skill levels.
Currently, the Piedmont Board includes 15 board members and an association manager, but the is hope that the team soon can grow to at least 19 or 20 active members.
"I certainly don't look for pats on my back, but it's so nice to see the progress and excitement and have so many people come up to me and the board members and treat us as kindly as they do," Pratt said. "I know we still have much work to do, but it gives me confidence knowing the bowlers have bought in. Also, having the support from USBC is so rewarding, and we're incredibly appreciative. Being able to use my state rep and USBC staff has made everything so much easier."
This telling of Pratt's story is part of an ongoing digital media campaign recognizing various groups, organizations and bowlers that make up the USBC membership, while also bringing attention to topics that affect the world on a larger scale.
USBC will continue to expand its diversity and inclusion topics and welcome the opportunity to showcase the people and other areas that are important to the members.
Up next in March, is a celebration of Women's History Month and four stories that recognize some of bowling's most influential women and up-and-coming stars.
If you know someone who is a standout or inspiration in one of the areas listed above, or you'd like to suggest a topic close to you, please let us know more by sending an email to PR@bowl.com.
For more information about USBC and its programs and partnerships, visit BOWL.com/Diversity.