Jeff LaBonte

Auburn's Armen Merzoian releases a ball at the Friday, Feb. 13 meet at AMF Lanes in Auburn.  Jeff LaBonte photo.

Auburn’s Armen Merzoian releases the ball at AMF Lanes in Auburn. Jeff LaBonte photo.

Competitive bowling has made its way into Central Mass. High schools over the past 7 years. Long a popular activity in regions of the country including the Midwest and parts of the south, bowling is finding its way into the mainstream here in Massachusetts.

According to Worcester County High School Bowling Commissioner, Henry Verdini, high school bowling has grown tremendously over the past 8 years.

Verdini is the former Worcester County Bowling Association president. Back in 2009, Verdini worked with AMF Auburn Lanes general manager, Eric Mahoney, to try to start a high school bowling program. “We need to get the kids into the sport. They are the future of bowling” says Verdini.

The initiative has worked. “We have 11 schools and a total of 32 teams in our league” says Verdini. “That includes Needham, since we did not have enough interest in the eastern part of our region. But Western Mass. is booming, too” he added.

The Worcester County Bowling Association has provided financial support to the high school league, which is not yet recognized as an inter-scholastic sport by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA). The schools fund raise to cover some of the lane costs and to purchase uniform shirts.

In addition, according to Verdini, Mahoney has been instrumental to league’s success. “Eric and AMF have donated lane time for the teams to practice. They’ve been extremely supportive. We wouldn’t be where we are without their support” says Verdini.

Auburn’s teams have fared well historically, though this has been a “rebuilding year” according to Auburn coach Kathy Tobey.

“We have 11 bowlers this year. We’ve had over 20 in the past. But I’m sure it will rebound” says Tobey.

Tobey, a physical education teacher at Auburn High, has been the bowling team coach for 6 of the team’s 7 years.

 

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The high school teams are co-ed, and are divided into three divisions based on bowlers’ experience and abilities. Auburn fielded teams in the ‘A’ and ‘B’ divisions this year. Teams practice on Wednesdays at AMF Auburn Lanes on Southbridge St. in Auburn. Matches are held each Friday at AMF Auburn, with the season running from about December to February.

Tobey, Mahoney and Verdini each expressed the same sentiment about the high school program; it appeals to “non-traditional” athletes. “Really, anyone can participate” said Tobey. “We get a lot of kids who don’t want to go out for the typical team sports you associate with high school athletes.”

“It’s a lifelong sport” adds Verdini. “It’s year round. It’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer and you can bowl well into your later years” he says.

Mahoney and Verdini plan to continue working to get the sport recognized by the MIAA. Until then, the teams continue to participate under a “club” label, which doesn’t seem to bother the bowlers much at all. During a break in the action, some Auburn bowlers who were sharing a plate of cheese fries shared their impression of the bowling league: as if on cue they said, in unison, “It’s fun!”

And that’s what it’s all about.