Park Lanes packed them in Tuesday for a pair of East Central Conference high school bowling matches.
On one end of the alley, a pair of seasoned boys and girls programs went at it as Newark took on Granville.
At the other end, a first-year Heath team was facing Licking Valley.
Either way, it was evident the bowlers, coaches and fans were enjoying themselves. Bowlers stood the entire time, often breaking into spontaneous cheers as boys and girls varsity and reserve teams rolled their ways to more competition experience on the lanes.
The Wildcats’ boys stayed unbeaten in the ECC, which includes Newark, Granville, Licking Valley, Lakewood, Heath, Utica and Sparta Highland and is in its final year of existence. They also compete in the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division, and have higher aspirations.
“We were six pins from the state last year, and we’ve never made it,” eighth-year coach Cory Smart said. “We still have a month to get ready.”
“Granville is always a huge match for Newark,” said senior Austin Martin, who carries a 210 league average and has a 300 game and 800 series to his credit. “We have high expectations to make the state. We back each other up. When one guy has a down game, someone else has to pick him up. We have a team, and we have to be a team first.”
Martin said he tries to treat each match like it’s his final time to bowl.
“It’s a fresh start, and I try to carry it over,” he said. “We have two sophomores who have stepped up and bowled like seniors. I try to set a good example and keep them motivated. I’m really happy, very proud of what our team has accomplished so far.”
The Wildcats set a school record with 2,685 pins against Reynoldsburg at Holiday Lanes in Columbus earlier this year. Two of Newark’s three seniors are fourth-year bowlers.
“We’ve really come along,” Smart said. “This year we’re a little down as far as numbers go, but we have some new kids on board and should be pretty good the next couple of years.”
Newark’s girls have three seniors and several juniors. Mike Wiley, who assists his wife Denise with the coaching, also is excited three freshmen are on the reserve team.
“We’d like to have that every year and keep building it up until they’re seniors,” he said. “We’ve qualified for the second round (of the tournament) every year. We started out a little slow this year, but we’ve gotten better every week.”
Sara Potenza is a fourth-year senior who has come a long way. She leads Newark with a 145 average.
“When I tried out as a freshman, I had 47. Now, I’m in the 140s,” she said. “It’s not just myself. I’ve tried to encourage the other girls, too. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think we would be where we are, so I’m proud of everyone.”
Granville also has built a tradition behind seventh-year girls coach Sue Bishop and fifth-year boys coach Todd Bowen.
“This is our best year ever for turnout. We have 45 kids in the (overall) program,” Bishop said. “And a lot of freshmen. To have that when we go against the bigger schools is a big plus.”
The girls team, however, is inexperienced.
“We graduated a few top-notch bowlers and have a few young players, but we have some talent and we’re getting there,” Bishop said.
Emily Richards is the only senior on varsity and just joined the team in 2011-12, but she’s made a lot of progress.
“Myself and the juniors started at the same time, and we’ve improved together,” she said. “I had my first 223 last Saturday. I’ve always loved to bowl, but never thought I would be on a bowling team.”
Bowen has a lot of first-year seniors and freshmen in the Granville boys program, but has seen it come along this season.
“We love to be competitive, but we also love to see improvement,” he said. “I’m more interested in getting us prepared for the sectional. We’ve made it through the sectional four years in a row, which is good for a small school like us.”
Park Lanes owner Jim Penick is coaching the Bulldogs in their first season, but said senior Jessica Frazier deserves all the credit for getting the program started.
“Her dad, Ray, is a big scratch bowler,” Penick said. “She picked up the torch, they agreed to do it and she got the kids signed up.”
Heath has varsity and reserve boys teams but not girls teams yet. However, Frazier is on the boys varsity and there are three girls on reserves.
“We just got our second win on Sunday against Utica, and got our first win against Lakewood at the start,” Penick said. “That first win, it was like we let lightning out of a bottle. The kids came out of their shells. Most of our bowlers came through my junior program here.”
Frazier’s younger brother, Carl, a freshman, is proud of his sister.
“She tried for four years, since she was a freshman, to get this started, and she finally got it through,” he said. “She bowled in juniors, took a couple of years off, but came back and is doing better.”
He leads the Bulldogs with his 200 average.
“We’re practicing our shots and improving,” he said. “It’s really fun to bowl against the other schools.”
Tim Pethtel and his wife, Cherie, have run the Licking Valley program for several years and enjoy seeing their bowlers progress. One of them is sophomore Cierra Lewis, who leads the Panthers with a 146 average.
“She came from a 118. It takes hard work, you have to listen, and you have to want to do it,” Tim said. “A lot of girls have turned out this season.”
“Everyone is family here,” Lewis said. “You get to meet a lot of new people, and it opens up a lot of opportunities.”
Pethtel said Valley has four full teams, with six on each team.
“Each year, we get a little better,” he said. “A lot of of our bowlers are new kids who have never bowled before. We do it for the fun.”