For most people bowling is a hobby. A way to hang with friends, a reason to hit up the snack bar.
For a handful of local high schools, though, bowling is a sport. Columbia, Lansingburgh, Niskayuna, Schenectady, and RCS are among the local schools that have teams.
But the best of the bunch could be Colonie Central High School. The girls and boys bowling teams there have combined for three state championships (and one state runner-up) over the past three seasons.
And they don't even get a pep rally.
"We have an amazing bowling league," says Paul Grugin, who's coached the girls varsity team for the past ten years, of the high school. "I think we're the only Section II school to ever win state."
Stopping by one of the girls team's practice recently, the tone is playful -- there's joking -- but it really is practice. There's a lot of focus on form. Grugin explains it's not just talent that's made Colonie successful, "It's that every girl loves this game." And they're willing to put in the work.
"Sometimes when I get home from bowling at night, I think, 'I really want to go bowling,'" says Amanda Gabriel. She's a junior and has been on the team for three years, but has been playing since the 5th grade. Her season average is 170.
Most of these girls have been playing since childhood and come from bowling families. Amanda Chrzanowski, 13, has been playing since she was eight years old. Her grandfather taught her mom, her mom taught her, and now she's a middle schooler on the high school varsity team. Her average this season: 194.
The girls have practice four days a week, matches twice a week, and most come in Saturdays and Sundays for extra practice and a travel league. That means most of them spend six days a week bowling at Sunset Lanes on Central Ave.
And these girls aren't using rentals. They have uniforms, the shoes, and anywhere from two to five bowling balls. One ball for weight, one for spares, and a few that depend on how much oil is on the lane. This is more than a hobby.
"Of course bowling is a sport. I mean, it's not as physically demanding as football, but I still go home sore. We work on our form, we practice all the time," says Cassidhe Whalen, a senior who has been bowling since middle school. And the school is supportive -- there are banners outside the school touting the championships. It's just that bowling doesn't have quite the profile of some other sports. Says Whalen: "If anyone bugs me about it I say, 'Well, we win state championships, does the football team?'"
And just like other sports, there's the possibility of college scholarships. Because in some states -- especially in the south -- colleges and universities are serious about their bowling programs. "I've already had two girls from previous years receive full scholarships to Arkansas State for bowling," Grugin says. "And I have at least four girls now that could get a full ride to school."
That's still a ways off. There's the current season to focus on first. So far, the Colonie girls team is undefeated.
"They're young, but they're fully capable and they've got the talent to go to state again this year," says Grugin.
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