Austin Herter picked the perfect time to roll his first 300 game - at the Michigan state high school championships.
"Now everyone at school always asks me how I'm bowling and if I've thrown another perfect game yet," the Chelsea High School junior said.
Austin is not the only high school student sharing tales from the lanes with his or her classmates. Nearly 40,000 students in the United States compete on a bowling team through their high school.
Austin, 16, practices on his own almost every day. Once his school's bowling season starts in January, his team will practice Monday through Friday after school.
"We practice spares a lot," Austin said. "Our coach, Eddie Greenleaf, is always on our case about that."
Felicia Goll, 16, is no stranger to tough high school bowling team practices. As a junior at Regina High School in Harper Woods, Mich., Felicia meets with her team and coach Laura Abele four times per week to prepare for matches.
"At first, we do basic things like skill drills and fundamentals," said Felicia, whose bowling season begins in December. "Throughout the year as we progress, our coach has us do more advanced things like spare shooting and Baker games to help us find the right lineup for our team.
"Last year, our team placed seventh in the state. Now that we've started to accomplish more, I've noticed that more and more students ask me about the team."
High school students aren't just asking about bowling - they're joining teams as well. According to a recent study by the National Federation of State High School Associations, in 2004-05 high school bowling had the largest increase in participation numbers from the previous season. This means that bowling is growing faster than football, soccer, tennis and all other high school sports.
Part of the reason for this growth is that bowling appeals to all kinds of athletes - even ones who don't compete in other sports.
"At my school, the team is open to everybody - we don't really have tryouts," Austin said. "Our coach gives a lot of hands-on training to the less-skilled bowlers to bring them up to speed."
But not all high schools have such an open structure. For many students, bowling team tryouts require preparation, dedication and hard work.
"I've been on my school's bowling team all four years," said Nick Palanyk, a 17-year-old senior at Brother Rice High School in Chicago. "When I was a freshman, I heard that the school's bowling team was good, and I decided to try out. I practiced on my own a few times a week to prepare for tryouts.
"The competition in high school is better than in a regular bowling league. Plus, we get to move on to regionals and state."
Felicia agreed: "High school bowling is different than regular leagues because I'm representing my school and I feel like I have to work harder. I'm not bowling alone - I'm working with my team. I'm bowling for others, not just me."
For many high school bowlers, competition is their main motivation.
"Our team competes in tournaments through our school, like the tournament for all schools in the county," Felicia said. "Regina is a private high school, so we also compete in Catholic league tournaments. We bowl in regionals and state, if we make it that far. We also use our fund-raising money to enter other tournaments like the Greater Detroit youth tournament."
"We compete in regionals," Austin said. "Our team didn't make it to state last year, but I went on to place fourth in singles."
Like many other high school sports, bowlers often must hold fund-raisers just to make it to competitions.
"We raise funds to pay for lineage fees, uniforms, shirts and tournament entries," Felicia said. "We have a great time selling Lemon Chill for concessions at University of Michigan football games. We also get area vendors and shops to offer discount cards, and we sell those as a fund-raiser."
The hard work pays off when high school bowlers start to see the support of friends, fellow students and family.
"My dad comes out to see me every time I have a match," Nick said. "He helps me a lot - he's a decent bowler."
"My parents are very encouraging of my bowling," Austin said. "They come to all my tournaments, and my dad helps me to stay focused before competition."
Felicia credits high school bowling with introducing her to bowlers from around her community and state.
"I've met so many people at tournaments," she said. "And bowling for my school has brought me a lot closer to people in my class and school.
"Bowling for high school is so much fun. I've met some of my best friends that way -- people from other schools who I would have never met without high school bowling." High school bowling isn't the end of the road for these athletes. All three plan to bowl in college and possibly beyond.
"I definitely want to bowl in college," Felicia said. "I've been looking at Nebraska, Wichita State and Arizona State. I'm pursuing scholarships for bowling."
"I want to be on USBC Junior Team USA or Team USA - I just have to qualify first," Austin said.
And although planning a successful college experience is his immediate goal, the future engineering major has big aspirations for his bowling career.
"Since I was 8 years old, I've talked about wanting to join the PBA tour someday," Austin said.
Whether they bowl for fun or for serious competition, high school bowlers take away some life lessons from their time on the lanes.
"Some days you won't bowl as well as others and you have to accept that," Felicia said. "My coach always tells us that bowling isn't all about winning, it's about having fun too."
Click here for more information on USBC High School.
Austin Herter and Felicia Goll blog about their high school bowling seasons.
By Alyssa Klopatek USBC High School Communications
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