Gorches: Indiana high school bowling doesn’t need the IHSAA
It’s Week 2 of the 14th annual Indiana High School Bowling (IHSB) state tournament. And that means it’s time for that annual reminder to anyone who wonders why a sport that represents almost 200 schools statewide and more than 400 kids across Northwest Indiana isn’t sanctioned by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA).
A handful of parents, kids and fellow media members are curious. The simple answer is that the people who have worked hard over the years as conference coordinators and coaches don’t want the IHSAA, and the IHSAA doesn’t want them, either. Not without stipulations and conditions.
What IHSB commissioner Steve Kunkel and his hard-working group have is something that works just fine. In fact, if the IHSAA took a closer look at the IHSB postseason, it might wish the well-publicized, sometimes controversial class basketball tournament ran as well.
You see, the kids shouldn’t be told they can’t compete in the same bowling leagues or tournaments they have for years and can’t earn the same benefits they have for years simply because the IHSAA says so.
It’s not like the IHSAA works so well. How many lawsuit challenges and criticisms has that organization received in recent years? Let’s just say it’s enough to make anyone think twice about joining its ranks.
Ask Mike Jasaitis how much he likes the IHSAA. The Crown Point attorney has overseen several eligibility cases against the IHSAA, including a current one involving a Gary athlete. Actually, maybe he likes the IHSAA because it keeps him busy, but it’s not because the organization is exuding intelligence or good decision-making.
The people who have been part of IHSB for a long time — such as WestLake Conference coordinator Bruce Kafantaris, Wheeler coach Mary Jarosz, Boone Grove girls coach and Suburban Conference coordinator Mike Kraushaar, Portage boys coach Lenny Smock, Lake Central boys coach Gregg Schmied, Boone Grove boys coach Karen Yankauskas, Portage girls coach Debbie Gossett or Merrillville girls coaches Dave and Paula Larson, who are stepping away after this season — don’t need IHSAA validation.
There are three specific reasons high school bowlers and their parents say thanks, but no thanks to IHSAA sanctioning:
League play: In states that sanction bowling — such as Illinois — kids aren’t allowed to bowl in their Saturday morning youth league during the high school season. You may think that’s unfair, but it’s the same as any other sport — AAU basketball, travel softball, club gymnastics, AAU track, etc. None of them are allowed during the athletes’ given high school season. In Illinois, it does affect participation in that the best bowlers don’t always come out for high school teams. But the ones who do come out for the sport only miss three months of the league season.
Tournaments and scholarship money: Most state high school organizations frown upon kids earning scholarship money outside of high school play. Bowling is built on the foundation of talented youth bowlers competing in annual local, state and national tourneys (such as Junior Gold and Teen Masters) to earn scholarships to be used when they enter college. The IHSAA says that’s receiving gifts, but it’s really not. The kids never see the money — it either goes straight to a college after their senior year or they forfeit it if they don’t continue their schooling.
School cooperation: Even if the IHSAA miraculously agreed to add bowling, there’s no guarantee all of the almost 200 schools that have bowling club teams would decide to add the sport to their athletic budgets. Money talks, and I’ve talked to Northwest Indiana athletic directors over the years who have said they don’t look forward to adding another “deficit” sport (one that doesn’t make money, like football or basketball). I’ve argued that bowling isn’t as much a deficit sport as golf or tennis. Bowling centers are a controlled environment in which spectator fees could easily be garnered. But that aside, schools would have to pay coaches, lineage for practice and matches, and uniforms. I can name at least four local schools that would snub bowling without a second thought.
Related to that last reason, the proprietors that have funded the IHSB program since 1999 get a bad rap from the IHSAA and athletic directors who think the center owners would try to fleece schools for lineage.
Regarding reasons 1 and 2, the IHSB doesn’t think it needs to completely change almost everything to make the IHSAA happy, while the IHSAA doesn’t want to look deeper into the IHSB and what makes it work so well. So they’re better off without each other, and the young bowlers who just want to compete and earn recognition are better off.
“There are kids who wouldn’t be participating in any sports if not for bowling, and I want them to keep bowling,” said Yankauskas, who has also coordinated Hebron Lanes’ youth program in addition to coaching the Wolves for 12 years.
The IHSAA doesn’t want or need bowling, and the bowling coaches and kids don’t want them either. Good riddance to bad rubbish.