In less than one year, Jim Trainer overcame one obstacle after another to create the Hickman bowling teams and bring them to the district finals.
Trainer, with the help of an eager group of young bowlers, organized two Kewpies teams, which competed March 7 at the district finals in St. Louis.
Hickman’s second team made it to the final round, placing 13th, and the more experienced first team finished 28th.
Trainer said he set up the teams to get a new generation interested in his favorite sport, league bowling.
“If we don’t encourage kids to take up bowling as a sport, league bowling is going to die out,” Trainer said. “You have to get the love of bowling early or you don’t get it.”
When he began creating the team in August, high schools did not show any interest. Trainer said he thought they were afraid of the money it would cost them, and sat on the idea.
Trainer was not looking for handouts. Oakland Plaza Lanes, where Trainer works, provided shoe rentals and free practices, although competition costs the bowlers $2 each game.
The bowling alley also provides free shirts and transportation, and the Missouri Bowler Proprietors’ Association supplied school letters for the students.
“This is ideal because there are so many kids in school that are not jocks and have no opportunity to earn their school letter,” Trainer said. “It doesn’t take a jock to do this; anybody can bowl.”
A lack of local competition was another roadblock for Trainer. Because no other area schools have teams, Hickman had to travel to St. Louis every Sunday to compete.
“It pretty much ruins my Sundays,” senior Brian Quint said. “That’s a downfall, but we all really love bowling.”
There was not a lack of interest from the students. Most of the bowlers had competed in junior leagues in the Columbia area while growing up. Seven attend Hickman, while Clint Luntsford goes to Sturgeon, P.J. Palmer goes to Ashland and Jeremy Scaife is a ninth-grader at Oakland Junior High.
Although their first season ended with the district finals March 7, Palmer, Thomas Stroud and Kyle Woody competed March 13 and 14 in a state tournament.
Palmer changed his style and bowled a career-high 279 during a doubles match with Stroud. The pair finished second in doubles, but neither teammate nor Woody placed in singles or team competition.
“I just moved to the left and hooked my ball across the lane,” Palmer said. “Usually, I stay on the right and let it hook right in.”
Woody bowled between 203 and 247 in five of his six individual games.
The first Hickman team, which has more upperclassmen with higher averages, won the north St. Louis conference and received an automatic bid to the district finals. The younger second team competed Feb. 29 to qualify for the finals as well.
“When you go up against good bowlers you improve yourself a lot,” Quint said.
On March 7, the first team, consisting of Bubba Daly, Drew Shiveley, Stroud, Woody and Quint missed the first cut by 15 pins.
“If somebody had picked up a spare somewhere we would have made it but that’s the breaks,” Trainer said.
The second team of Matt Acra, John Findlay, Luntsford, Palmer and Scaife, finished in a three-way tie for 25th place. The top 26 teams in the 52-team tournament advance to the final round, and Hickman had to win a tiebreaker game to advance to the second round.
The tiebreaker was in Baker Collegiate Style, where all team members bowl two frames each in one game. All of Hickman’s bowlers hit strikes and easily won the match.
“They bowled five strikes in a row, which is what it takes to win at the Baker style,” assistant coach Mike Findlay said. “You’ve got to string them together.”
The rookie team could not compete with St. Louis’ elite bowlers, and failed to make the final cut.
“The last month (the second team) has been out here working on their game, really trying to beat (the first team) more than anything,” Trainer said.
Quint, the conference’s leading match-point scorer, is Hickman’s only senior, and the Kewpies should be stronger next year. Trainer will try to create a mid-Missouri conference of about 12 schools this summer depending on school interest.
“We won’t have to make that weekly commute (to St. Louis) back and forth,” Trainer said. “The kids didn’t mind it, but they were asleep five miles out of town.”
Trainer said he was pleased his bowlers have the opportunity to compete while they are young and said he hopes high schools leagues will create a revival for league bowling.
“This is where our next league bowlers are going to come from,” he said. “If we instill the love of bowling in them, they’ll instill it in their kids. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.”
Mike Findlay is equally as happy that the bowling team gave his son the opportunity to meet new people.
“He made some new friends that he probably never would’ve met before,” Findlay said. “I think he opened up some more with them as he got to know them.”