The MEAC has12 schools, every one containing a bowling program. But one has to wonder how such a low-key sport slipped into the budgets of a conference full of limited-resource schools.
“Bowling is expensive, so you don’t have many people of color playing,” explained Wilhelmenia Harrison, coach of the Norfolk State Spartans bowling squad.
Harrison says that “Having teams at historic black institutions helps improve the image of the game and having exposure helps with recruiting.”
Nonetheless the sport isn’t seen by many yet as your typical college pastime. Bowling is still viewed largely as a hobby or something done on family outings. But things are starting to change, albeit slowly. One example is that competitions are started to be broadcast on ESPN stations.
Ron Davis has been the head women’s bowling coach at Howard University for seven years. In his view, bowling is like any other sport, it just is played in a different arena.
“We’re athletes; we work out just as hard…A lot of practice making spares,” Davis said of his team at Howard.
The team practices in the school’s bowling center, which the team shares with university students. The lanes are located in the basement of the university’s student activities building. Even with its 12 lanes and typical bowling alley set-up, it can be hard to find. The facility also contains television monitors mounted above the lanes and an array of bowling balls. Considering that many big schools with even bigger budgets don’t have their own bowling facilities, the team is lucky to have it.
Jordane Frazier is a senior on the Howard bowling team and is use to informing people of the team’s existence.
“People are always surprised when they hear that I’m on the bowling team. They are usually just as surprised when they discover that we have a bowling team, so I anticipate the shock from people when I tell them,” she says.
Though bowling takes place in a different arena, just like any other sport winning attracts more people and support.
The Norfolk State Spartans are the reigning MEAC champions and have been ranked in the Nation’s top 20 for the past four years. The team has a brand new bowling facility on campus and, according to Coach Harrison, has a loyal following of fans who come to practices and most tournaments.
Sheila Smith is a redshirt senior on the team and says that she loves playing in the MEAC and has no problem being the underdog on the national stage.
“It makes me happy knowing not only does my team represent Norfolk state but we also represent the MEAC. What’s more is that we represent and put on for every HBCU in the country,” she said.
Smith also thinks that black colleges are too often underestimated and is proud that the number two ranked team in the country, University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), comes from the MEAC.
“Unlike other schools in the top 10, they are in the MEAC also, it gives us more opportunity to compete against them and show we can compete with the best,” she said.
While it might be considered a sport to many, according to campus explorer.com, only 43 schools in the NCAA Division I and II offer bowling, and only women’s teams are sanctioned. The NCAA doesn’t recognize men’s bowling as a sport.
In an effort to include men bowlers, many schools take on co-ed intramural teams. A junior at Howard University, Troy Mosby found out about the school’s intramural squad when he saw posters around campus. Mosby got his first bowling ball at the age of five and was inspired to bowl by his father who was in a bowling league. He doesn’t think it’s a huge deal men don’t have their own league but admits he would like a little more structure for the team.
“It’d be nice to have a coach,” he says.
Senior and Captain Christine Williams also joined the Howard University intramural team when she saw flyers around campus and says she understands if students don’t get the sport.
“…It’s a social thing where people come and hang out,” she said, acknowledging the communal aspect of bowling.
But Williams also considers bowling a very technical sport, and even after 12 years still only considers herself average.
As captain, it is also her responsibility to find tournaments for the teams to play in, which can be a challenge. If a team has even one male player on it, they must play an all men’s team. As well as not being sanctioned in the NCAA, co-ed intramural teams must also find funding outside of their school’s athletic budget. The Howard team is supported by student activities, which funds mostly all of the teams’ competitions.
Williams says she understands the league is unconventional but would like to see it continue after she graduates. She hopes younger students get involved and grow the program.
“Hopefully they won’t have to go through what we did,” she says.
Coach Davis believes that bowling brings the kind of student-athlete that Howard and HBCU’s in general want to attract. His team has had the second highest GPA among Howard sports teams every year since he’s been head coach. Coach Davis says the team has a long future being that every generation has fun with the sport and can start at any age.
“From 5 to 105, they’re bowling,” he says.