By Jawaun Jackson, Contributing Writer
Photo: Jawaun Jackson
For starters, I walked onto a non-NCAA team here at McKendree, so technically I just joined a sport club in terms of bureaucracy. However, I have always seen it as I walked on to a championship winning program. In comparison, McKendree to bowling is the same as University of Alabama to football. I found myself being the weak link of a dynasty destined organization. There was also this chip on my shoulder because I lacked skill compared to my new-found teammates, and it didn’t help that they were some of the best amateur bowlers in the nation.
Now, to the comedic part of my story. When applying to this great institution I accidentally put golf instead of bowling as my sport due to a mouse and keypad snafu that I did not notice for about five months until I was moving in and received an email from the golf coach on information about team physicals. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be on the bowling team roster till 2017. It was spectacular of how everything lined up in the fall of 2017. My grades were acceptable, I had a means of transportation (my own car), and everything I needed to be successful on the team. The only thing holding me back was lack of skill due to three years of being inactive in competitive bowling. I went into the tryouts and failed miserably. But in my failure, I found understanding in why McKendree has the #1 team in the nation. The rigorous gauntlet the bowling program puts its players through is thorough and efficient in selecting the best teams to represent the University in competition. There is reason for this process; the loaded coaching staff have created something truly special in this routine. With one gold level coach and one silver level coach, the McKendree bowling program boasts one of the greatest coaching staffs in the nation. It was kind of intimidating at first glance, since the director of bowling, Bryan O’Keefe, is also a coach for Jr team USA bowling and holds a gold level coach rating by the United States Bowling Congress. Both men’s and women’s coaches hold silver level ratings. The women’s head coach is also a PWBA champ and member of Team USA for the last 14 years and the men’s head coach is very accomplished and well respected in the bowling community.
Getting back to my story, I was quite nervous and daunted by the program. The amount of talent that was around me was astonishing, it wasn’t long when I realize I was the weak link on the team. After the try-outs I was placed on “D-Team” which stood for developmental team, I was told after evaluations that l was inexperienced when it came to lane patterns and could use work on my spares. However, during my first year on the team I practiced, practiced, and practiced a little more. I hardly missed practice and was always early, I spent countless hours studying ball motion and oil patterns in my free time. From time to time the coaching staff would let me know that they appreciated my work ethic, I took this lightly because I saw no progress in my game. There were instances where I thought of quitting and letting go the sport, but my mind couldn’t hold my heart down. I worked hard day in and day out making sure not to let my classwork slip, and on the latter half of the spring semester I found myself signed to an amateur contract with a small bowling company California Bowling LLC. At the end of the season our Graduate Assistant coach and future Team USA member Matthew Farber told me I was his vote (if there was one) for most improved bowler on the team.
With having a contract and the supporting words of the coaching staff I felt a great boost coming into this year’s season ready to showcase my improvement. I was re-signed to a year length contract with my company and I was ready for the evaluations. I came teeming with hope and the biggest chip on my shoulder the world has ever seen. I improved from last year, but I wasn’t happy with myself. I knew I could have done better and wasn’t preforming to my best abilities. I was on Junior varsity and participated in two tournaments where I rode bench for most of the weekends, but with a heavy heart I was proud of being part of a team and knowing in some way I was contributing.
Redemption of Sorts
During the first tournament I was horrible, a shaking nervous hot mess. My practice shots were inconsistent, and my legs were shaking and far from being under me. I was giving one game and bowled a humbling 151, I was soon taken out and didn’t touch the lanes for the rest of the weekend. By the second tournament my view of bowling was bleak and with good reason, I hardly bowled and didn’t see the lanes until the second day weekend during the baker team format where five people bowl a single game two frames each. I was on JV1 and it just so happened that our JV2 made it to the final match with us, it was McKendree Vs McKendree. Since we all seen the match with a friendly connotation the coaches stared people who was on the bench, I was given the unique to chance to lead off the team for frames 1&6. I was ready to make something out of the chance and that I did. When I told my team my plan of attack there was some objectivity, they were unsure if it would work. I was willing to take the risk and was rewarded with an above average performance contributing to a tournament win in the JV division in a series win of 4-1. I was praised for play and felt a part of that chip on my shoulder fade away into dust, I felt redemption and hunger to compete in the next tournament coming up in February. I’m in the bottom picture holding the trophy.