Rolling Into the Spotlight

Girls Bowling Teams Hit Their Stride With Confidence

Department: Athletics

By Starr Dods

Laughter drowns out the booming echo of falling bowling pins as a teenage girl high-fives her friends. At first glance, it is a fun outing with companions. Watch a little closer, and it’s clear that these athletes are competing for their school, pushing themselves individually and as a team to be the best.

Above: From left to right: varsity bowlers Mayci Ta‘amilo ’12, Jamie Lum ’12, Kelly Mok ’13 and Kallista Hiraoka ’13 share a group high-five during a practice at Fort Shafter in October.

Perhaps it’s the outward appearance of a merely fun and entertaining activity that has traditionally pegged bowling as an undemanding sport in which to fulfill a physical education credit. However, that perception has been changing. In 1964, bowling became an official championship sport with the Interscholastic League of Honolulu after its introduction the previous year. But the popularity of bowling really began to surge in 2004, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association added bowling to the roster of women’s athletics, cementing its place as an emerging sport for girls.

Nanci Coolen, Punahou’s head coach for the girls varsity and junior varsity bowling teams for the past three years, has seen the popularity grow. About 6 years ago, there were barely enough girls to form a team, but last year’s tryouts brought out more than 45 girls, resulting in the addition of a second junior varsity team to meet the demand. Coolen credits this popularity with the numerous opportunities for meaningful athletic experiences.

“There is a tremendous amount of pressure to compete and win,” says Coolen. But by capitalizing on bowling’s natural appeal – namely, a strong sense of community – beginning and seasoned athletes alike can reap the benefits of this highly social game.

Bowlers like Nalei ’13, a standout on the junior varsity team, would not have otherwise participated in a competitive sport. “I’ve made close friends who I probably wouldn’t have known without bowling,” Nalei said of the unexpected and pleasant surprise. Coolen also points out that previous bowling experience is unnecessary. “You can be a beginner and still play and compete in this sport,” she says; her rosters show all but three players are beginner bowlers.

While those players continue to gain a confidence boost among the safety of friends, other teammates are able to compete in multiple sports throughout the school year. Varsity co-captains and seniors Holly and Demi play other sports as well. Demi plays basketball and softball while Holly is in wrestling and judo. They find bowling uniquely rewarding from the other sports they play, and agree that bowling requires skill, strategy and a strong mindset.

“It is more of a mental than physical game,” says Holly, adding that patience and the ability to stay optimistic during a long game are critical to being a good bowler. “I wish more people appreciated it, because it is a hard sport.”

“It really is all about mindset,” says Demi, explaining that even if a player has a bad frame, she can’t let it get to her. The key is to shake it off for the next frame. “You focus on your lane, your opponent focuses on their lane, and whoever has a better day wins,” she says.

This group of strong players has contributed to the recent success and attention that the varsity and junior varsity teams have garnered. Coolen admits, “Some people don’t know Punahou has a girls bowling team – and we’re good!” Continuing the legacy of veteran bowling coach Kelcey Ko, under Coolen’s guidance the Buff ’n Blue varsity girls are proving just that with back-to-back ILH championship wins in the past two years, plus coming in second in the state in 2010.

Even with the pressure of standing alone in a lane, frame after frame, these girls know they are not alone; overwhelming support exudes from their teammates. They have infused a good mix of camaraderie and silliness, which seems to go a long way. Those who bowl three strikes in a row don the now-famous chicken hat. And those who don’t? High-fives aren’t just saved for good frames, but doled out for not-so-good ones as well.

Starr Dods is a full-time mother and a part-time freelance writer and public relations consultant.


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