Richard Scalzo’s plan was to enroll at FGCU as a freshman this fall.
The Fort Myers High graduate had his sights set on studying athletic training, where he would earn a quality education close to home.
Then came Union College (Ky.), which offered an $18,000-a-year partial scholarship to bowl.
Yep — that much money — for bowling.
For Scalzo, a competitive left-handed two-handed bowler for the Green Wave, it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to stay here and focus on education,” Scalzo said. “But when they offered me, I researched and I saw that they have good academic programs and athletic training. I said, ‘Why not?’”
The senior signed his formal intent to bowl for the liberal arts school, where undergraduate tuition rates average $31,000, on July 11.
Scalzo also has a handful of other scholarships, including the Sam Sirianni leadership award, that will provide supplementary money to help defray costs.
He became the first Fort Myers graduate to accept a bowling scholarship and was just the second Lee County athlete to receive money since the Florida High School Athletic Association recognized the sport in 2011.
Participation numbers for the FHSAA show that over 1,283 bowlers competed across 167 teams in 2014-15, with only a few moving on to collegiate programs.
In 2014, Island Coast graduate Jessica Davies, three-time News-Press Bowler of the Year, was awarded a partial scholarship to NCAA Division II Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire.
“I’m very happy with my decision to bowl here,” said Davies, who receives approximately $7,000 to bowl with the Ravens. “The bowling team is a lot of fun.”
Scalzo’s recruitment can be thanked partly to happenstance. Fort Myers head bowling coach Scott Guttery said he received an email from the Union staff inquiring about prospective out-of-state bowlers.
Guttery, who attended Centre College in Kentucky, forwarded Scalzo’s name to the university and to his player.
Within a month, Scalzo followed up with the lead, met all the program’s requirements, visited the campus, was offered the scholarship and decided to jump on the chance.
“He was our only senior, so that was part of it,” Guttery said. “I think it was a little fortunate, because I get those emails all the time for basketball. This was was the first time someone reached out to me for bowling. But he was a pretty good bowler, so I thought it could work.”
While bowling programs vary from school to school, a report on college bowling scholarships revealed that the average scholarship between six collegiate divisions equals out to $6,720, with NAIA schools like Union averaging between $7,290 for women’s and $6,866 for men’s programs.
“It’s cool, because he really does love bowling,” Guttery said. “He has a passion for it. I’m hoping it sets a trend and we have more guys who do it.”
Scalzo picked up the sport competitively less than three years ago. He bowled his first perfect game almost two years later.
He owns a personal best three-game set of 786 and holds three 300 pin games on his resume. He sports an average of 208 per game and even has a little bit of bowling in the family.
His cousin’s uncle is professional bowler Parker Bohn III.
“I guess when I shot my first 300 I knew I had it in me,” Scalzo said. “It showed me I had to put more work and dedication into the sport.”