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A sport for the rest of us

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Barring any last-minute controversy, bowling is about to become the newest varsity sport at Little Rock high schools. The school board will vote on the proposal at its meeting tonight, Thursday, Sept. 28.

It’s the first sport the district has added since girls’ fast-pitch softball five years ago, Athletic Director Johnny Johnson said. It also happens to be the fastest-growing high school sport in the country, according to a national organization of high school athletic associations.

“Bowling is designed to try to attract your non-sporting athlete kids” — the ones who don’t participate in traditional school sports like football or track, said Johnson.

The Arkansas Activities Association officially sanctioned bowling three years ago, and held the first state championship in 2005. Last year, 60 high schools fielded bowling teams, including several in Central Arkansas. The North Little Rock High School girls’ varsity team placed third in the 5A division at the 2006 championships and had three team members in the top 10 individual competition, and Mills had the second-place winner in the girls’ individual event. In the 4A division, Vilonia has won team championships both years.

Two busloads of students tried out for a total of 24 spots on Vilonia’s girls’ and boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams in 2005, Athletic Director David Bangs said.

“If you’ve ever been to bowling meet, it’s just like a ballgame,” he said. “They’re cheering and chanting.”

Expenses are minimal because the state’s bowling alley owners have banded together to provide free time for practice and matches, as well as free shoe and ball rental, and, in some cases, help paying for uniform shirts and even coaches’ stipends. The Little Rock proposal lists the only expenses as the coaches’ pay and transportation costs. The season runs from November through February, so schools will be able to compete this year, Johnson said.

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