Youth bowlers embrace challenge

The seemingly endless debate over so-called “inflated” scoring and its affect on bowling’s future may have come one step closer to resolution last month when Pennsylvania high school bowlers eager for a challenge took a shot at the USBC Blue and White lane patterns in their state championships.

“There are a number of kids out here who want to challenge themselves,” said Dana Brown, who served as Tournament Director during the state championships. “The top-level kids know what’s out there and they want to be pushed.”

A high school bowling coach and a 200-average bowler himself, Brown received permission from USBC to use two of the Red, White and Blue lane patterns showcased on ESPN earlier this year in the finals of Red, White and Blue Open held in Wichita, Kan.

If a challenge is what the bowlers were looking for, that is exactly what they got.

“We used the White pattern in the team event, and only five of the best 12 teams in the state bowled 3,000 for three games,” Brown says of the five-bowler team competition. “In the singles event, we used the Blue pattern and the cut was minus for both the boys and the girls.

Designed to fill the gap between the more forgiving recreational patterns that most league bowlers are used to and the much more demanding sport shots available in USBC Sport Bowling leagues, the USBC Red, White and Blue patterns offer a softer transition for league bowlers looking to try something different from the typical house shot.

The Blue pattern is the most difficult of the three, with a flatter, four-to-one oil ratio, while the ratio on the White pattern is a bit more forgiving at six-to-one. The typical house shot, by contrast, offers about a 12-to-one ratio with much more oil in the middle of the lane and less on the outside, allowing the pattern to guide the ball to the pocket more frequently regardless of the quality of the shot.

“Going from the house shot directly to sport patterns can be a big ego hit,” explains USBC Research Manager Jim Jaryszak. “Now there is at least a stepping stone to get to that point. We’re trying to educate bowlers on the difficulty of sport patterns and also give proprietors more choices for their leagues. They can split leagues up to bowl four weeks on each pattern – Red, White and then Blue – and then bowl the final four weeks on sport patterns. By that point the bowlers have a very good idea of just how difficult the patterns are that the pros bowl on.”

The concept is a godsend for Brown, who is as interested in accommodating his local youth bowlers’ craving for a challenge as he is cautious about how much of a challenge to allow.

“I’m concerned about throwing sport shots at kids who are clearly not ready for it; some of them are only familiar with the Saturday morning house shot,” Brown explains. “You have kids who are 12-, 13- or 14-years-old who have never seen a sport pattern before, and bowling on that for the first time can be very frustrating. So we have to think about when to challenge them and when not to.”

The option to choose among a variety of lane patterns is one that has not always been available to youth bowlers.

“A lot of youth bowlers across the nation today are bowling on tougher shots than I ever had the opportunity to bowl on growing up,” says Neil Stremmel, Managing Director of the National Governing Body. “A lot of the patterns used in collegiate and high school competition are sport-compliant.”

With the increased accessibility of more challenging lane patterns since the inception of the USBC Sport Bowling program — particularly at events such as Junior Gold tournaments or collegiate competition — comes a more educated generation of bowlers who face less-drastic learning curves in competition thanks to their experience on sport shots as youth bowlers.

“Take a look at guys like Sean Rash, Bill O’Neill, or Rhino Page, who had the greatest rookie season ever in PBA history — these guys had been bowling on sport patterns at Junior Gold tournaments for years,” Jaryszak says. “They mastered those conditions at an early age.”

As the high school bowlers who took up the challenge of the USBC Blue and White patterns at the Pennsylvania High School State Championships have learned, though, there is a way to go before they become the next Rhino Page or Bill O’Neill. Asked what the bowlers themselves gleaned from their experience bowling on these patterns for the first time, one word sufficed as an answer.

“Spares, spares, spares,” Brown said. “The kids who know how to adjust to conditions made their spares and they were the ones who scored, but when you can’t get to the pocket consistently the big thing is making spares. We had six to 10 kids within five or six pins of that last spot, and I told them that a missed spare here or there was the difference.”

That is a lesson that the high school bowlers of Pennsylvania and bowlers of all levels around the country will have the chance to benefit from soon, as the Red, White and Blue patterns are slated to become available to leagues from coast to coast later this year.

“After seeing the results, many coaches are looking forward to these patterns being released so that they can challenge their bowlers,” Dana Brown says. “A number of coaches are trying to convince their local houses to have Red, White and Blue leagues for high-school age youths.

"That growing anticipation of the Red, White and Blue program will be a topic of discussion at the upcoming USBC Convention in Reno, Nev., later this month.

“The program is moving forward,” Neil Stremmel explains. “Many more leagues across the country will have the opportunity to compete on these lane patterns.”