Situated in a crowded field of small colleges in Kansas, Tabor College is looking to a new bowling program to give the school a competitive edge in student recruitment.
Tabor is the only school in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference to have a bowling program, and one of the few in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
That should give Tabor a leg up on tapping what Rusty Allen, vice president of athletics, calls a growing interest in bowling at the high school level.
?Nearly all of the schools in the city of Wichita and the suburbs have bowling teams with large numbers of people on them,? he said. ?There aren?t many (college bowling) programs in the state, so many of them who have a passion for bowling really don?t have a chance to go on and compete.
?We thought it made sense for our school if we could pull it off to offer it.?
In addition to building enrollment, bowling should attract students who will do well in college and complement Tabor?s academic goals.
?There?s anecdotal evidence that the quality of student is solid that are attracted to that sport,? he said. ?And it doesn?t require a lot of out-of-class time.?
Allen said bowling has been classified by the NAIA as an ?emerging sport,? which means 50 schools across the country have adopted it. Should the popularity of the sport spread and 100 schools come on board, the NAIA would deem it a ?championship? sport and create a structure to determine a national champion.
?When (the NAIA) identified it a little over a year ago as an emerging sport, it caught our attention in the sense that small private schools in rural Kansas are always looking for ways to attract more students,? Allen said.
Launching a new sport comes with a variety of challenges.
?The challenges mostly were with facilities, and still are,? Allen said. ?We have a small alley here (in Hillsboro) that we?ll use, and we?ve had some communication with the owner of the alley.
?We have quite a bit more communication that will have to happen to work that out,? he added. ?We?ve had some communication with the Marion alley and we believe we can use it some.?
A third resource is Eastgate Lanes in Newton, which is owned by the family of Tabor?s first bowling coach, Todd Zenner.
?We have some opportunity to go there, where they have some more advanced technological equipment and we can prepare better for tournaments and things like that,? Allen said.
Another difficulty is that with no KCAC bowling season, Tabor?s team will need to travel further to compete.
Allen said the team will compete six to eight times during the season, which runs from October through March. He said most of the tournaments likely will be in Wichita, St. Louis, Dallas and Kansas City, but a few will be as far as Nebraska and Illinois.
?For one or two times we?re going to have to go to Illinois, but we?ll be able to stay somewhat regionalized,? he said. ?It?s going to be more travel for sure than our other sports because we don?t have a conference we can depend on.?
Even with the extended travel, Allen said the program should be a positive financial endeavor.
?If you could fill your roster, then you could easily justify the expense from the tuition revenue you?re getting from your students,? he said. ?Even though they will be scholarshipped, they won?t be anywhere near full scholarshipped.?
One more challenge to work through is determining eligibility rules since the NAIA does not yet offer that for bowling.
?We will adhere to the eligibility rules that the United States Bowling Congress has for college-level bowlers,? Allen said. ?They are very similar to the NAIA eligibility rules. That won?t be much of a change.
?The decision the NAIA will have to make is, if we get 100 or more schools and they define bowling as a competitive sport, are they going to break off that private organizational structure and create their own national championship qualification process, or are they going to tie into (the USBC)??
Allen said he is excited about having Zenner on board to lead the inaugural year of the program. Zenner bowled on the 1993 national championship team at Wichita State, competed on the professional tour for a time and has continued to offer bowling lessons for beginners and pros alike while operating a pro shop in Dallas, Texas.
?He?s moving back to Newton to help his parents run Eastgate and wants to coach a college team,? Allen said. ?The timing of it was perfect. He didn?t think he would necessarly get to do that, but when we announced we were going to have bowling, he saw the ad for a coach.
?We?re excited about his qualifications.?
The bowling team will start practice soon after the new school year begins.
Work in progress
Allen said the new program is a work in progress.
?Getting it off the ground is difficult,? he said. ?We want it to have the same overall mission that the college has. We?re a Christ-centered college and we want that mission to be a part of all of our sports programs.
?When you add a new one, you?ve kind of got to get that off the ground, too. You?ve got to get the bowlers to understand that they?re here for a degree.?
Despite the challenges, Allen said the venture has been exciting for him and the college.
?We think it?s a good idea,? he said. ?It has a very modest risk with a really big potential reward. I think it?s a good business decision.?