With no girls bowling team at Westerville Central last season, Payton Hartgrove saw a different side to the sport.
After the Warhawks had been a top program for more than a decade, earning state tournament appearances in 2009-12, 2014 and 2018-20 − they were runners-up in 2010 as Mary Wells won the individual title with a 739 three-game series − Central had trouble maintaining a roster to keep the team going amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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In addition to the virus, some teams struggled to replenish their rosters because they had senior-heavy lineups at the outset of the pandemic, so efforts to recruit new bowlers took a hit. Last year, as the only girl in the Central program, Hartgrove bowled on the boys team during the regular season.
“A big part of it was COVID,” Warhawks coach Tony Gonzalez said. “We had a really strong program, but once we came back from COVID, we lost our (junior varsity) boys (team) and all of our girls.
“Gaining momentum again has taken a little bit of time. I’m just grateful that we’re back at it (with the girls). We still don’t have enough boys for a j.v., so it’s still a climb.”
Hartgrove helped the boys win the COHSBC-A Division at 12-1 and share the OCC-Buckeye title with Big Walnut at 6-1. She then competed in the girls postseason and finished second in Division I state tournament with a 663, one pin behind Amherst Steele’s Makayla Velasquez.
“When I had to bowl with the guys … it made me dig for every shot,” said Hartgrove, a left-hander who is now a senior. “That mentality that I got bowling with the boys definitely helped me focus in and kept me motivated in the postseason.”
Central wasn’t the only girls team hurt by the pandemic, as Briggs also struggled to maintain numbers.
The Bruins were state qualifiers from 2013-17 and had two individual state champions in Tori Pappas (619) in 2015 and Dakota Fink (677) in 2017. Fink, a three-time state qualifier, led the COHSBC with a 201.9 average as a senior in 2019-20, which was the last time Briggs had a girls team.
Attempts to bring back a team this season ultimately proved unsuccessful.
“The girls were a dominant force in central Ohio,” Briggs boys coach Art Susi said. “Then COVID hit, and we haven’t been able to hold a team.
"Everybody was a senior (when) COVID hit and so they weren’t able to recruit kids."
Still, bowling is growing overall, with Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome adding boys and girls teams this season.
“We’re just getting more interest and more (athletics directors) are accepting bowling as a sport,” said Jo Dimond, tournament manager for the Central District and COHSBC coordinator. “It’s taken a long time because it’s obviously not a moneymaker for the school. We actually have more interest than ever.”
Dublin Scioto laid the groundwork as a club team for three seasons, leading the school district to sanction the sport over the summer.
“Really, we have (Scioto coach Tamie Snyder) to thank for this,” Jerome coach Randy Boyce said. “It wouldn’t be a varsity sport without all the work she put in. She deserves the recognition.”
Maintaining a program can be difficult. Teays Valley, which has seven freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and no seniors on its roster, went 6-7 overall and 5-6 in the COHSBC-A last season.
“We were scratching to get a girls team this year,” Vikings coach Nick Bolyard said. “We were lucky because we got (seven) freshmen out on a whim, per se. How do we get kids to keep coming out year after year?
“If they want to get really good at (bowling), they have to buy their own equipment, buy their own shoes and balls and (a) bag – that’s $200. A lot of coaches don’t teach, so they’re working outside of the school and trying to get kids to bowl. We’re trying to figure out how to help each other.”
Hartgrove, meanwhile, is happy Central’s girls team is back.
“I missed the girls side of the bowling alley,” she said. “It’s full of positivity and competitiveness. Having a group of people ... that constantly have your back, it’s really refreshing.”
This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Columbus high school girls bowling preview for 2022-23