There was a slightly different look to the North Rockland girls bowling team at this year’s Section 1 tournament this past Wednesday, one that wasn’t easily recognized by the naked eye.
The hoard of parents sitting and standing behind the Red Raiders’ lane assignment pair was still as raucous as ever. Head coach Joanie Nelson was still there on the lanes, guiding the girls along the way.
To catch the difference between this year’s North Rockland team, and those of years past, you needed an up-close-and-personal look.
Even then, it was hard to see.
Going back to my high school bowling days, there were two things I’ve come to expect when the tournament rolled around each year: The North Rockland girls are going to win, and they were going to do it with French braids in their hair.
The girls won in 2005, sporting the hairstyle, and have continued to win every year since — braids and all.
Traditionally, North Rockland wore their hair with two braids hanging down behind their neck. This year, the team modernized the look by going with French braid and blending it in with the rest of their hair.
“We decided to do something different because change is always good,” said North Rockland sophomore Mercedes Morel, who hosted this year’s braiding party last Sunday. “We started something new.”
The girls originally braided their hair last Sunday, the slated eve of the tournament. When inclement weather pushed the tournament to Wednesday, they re-did their hair Tuesday night at the house of freshman Nicole Cona, who braided all of her teammates’ hair.
The braids have had little, if anything, to do with the team’s success in the past. North Rockland has won most years by 400-900 pins over the six-game tournament, so it’s highly doubtful that a hairstyle gave any kind of an edge.
The girls could’ve channeled Demi Moore in “G.I. Jane” and shaved their heads and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
But it’s tradition.
As a sports fan who appreciates traditional practices in sports — whether it’s the student-athletes of Keio Academy bowing to the crowd after a contest, or the ‘One Shining Moment’ highlight reel playing after the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — I never had a problem with the practice.
As a bowler who understands that bowlers are about as superstitious as any athlete you’ll find, I respected the practice.
But, having seen the tradition firsthand for more than a decade, I was surprised at this year’s modification. This, coming from a guy who can’t throw a ball in a long-sleeved shirt without spazzing out like Sheldon Cooper in virtually any episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”
Past Red Raiders would’ve liked to see the tradition carried out in its existing state.
“It was definitely disappointing,” said former captain Nicole Talamini, who is currently bowling for the relaunched the Rockland Community College team. “When we started that, it was such a strong thing and it was on for so many years — it’s not like it was only on for two years.”
Talamini, who was named The Journal News/lohud Rockland bowler of the year as a sophomore in 2012, spent five seasons with the Red Raiders at the varsity level.
Talamini admits she never cared much for the French braids look, but as a member of the North Rockland girls bowling team, she knew it came with the territory when the team competed at the Section 1 tournament.
“Just being a girl, I was just like, ‘I hate my hair like this, I don’t look good!” she said, chuckling. “It definitely did grow on me over the years.”
“At first, obviously it didn’t mean anything to me. I was like, ‘OK, this is tradition. I’m just gonna go with the flow as a team. I’m new to the team,’” she added. “As I got older, I got so excited for the day before sectionals to get our hair done.”
Talamini said the braids embody the teamwork and identity of the program.
“North Rockland is kind of known to be the loudest — the loudest fan group, the loudest parents, even the team itself,” she said. “I think the braids gave more intimidation because it showed how strong our team unity is.”
North Rockland won this year’s tournament by 187 pins, so the altered hairstyle didn’t play a factor in the end results.
The two-braid tradition may be discontinued, but it hasn’t stopped the team from producing, just as Eminem ditching his bleached blonde hair didn’t keep him from winning Grammys.
The Red Raiders may have put a new spin on one tradition, but they carried on the most important one of all: winning.