LAURIUM - Bowling became a varsity sport again at Calumet and Lake Linden high schools this school year, but the athletic departments aren't picking up the tab. Instead, the schools' co-op bowling team funds itself, which is why students and coaches found themselves hosting a post-season spaghetti dinner and glow bowling fundraiser Saturday at Miller's Recreation in Laurium.
The fundraiser went well, with well over 200 dinner tickets sold, according to sophomore team member Jon Kesanen. Ditto for the season, where what turned out to be a mixed team of boys and girls due to lack of participation finished 9th out of 14 teams in a boys division that included teams from L'Anse, Escanaba, Ishpeming, Marquette and Gladstone.
"We saw a lot of improvement through the year," said coach Bill Bastion. "We're still trying to work with some of the kids, we're here every Monday."
Next year, he said, he hopes bowling will attract a few more students, especially on the girls' side, and the squad will be able to field separate boys' and girls' teams. New bowlers are welcome, he said, noting that this year's team had three bowlers who had never bowled in a league before.
Bowling, he said, provides an opportunity for students who don't necessarily fit into another athletic niche.
"What it comes down to, a lot of these kids don't have other sports," he said. "This gives them a chance to participate in sports and get better."
One supporter the bowling team probably couldn't do without is Miller's, their home alley, which provides free practice time on the lanes two days a week. Owner Loralee Miller said it's hopefully to the alley's advantage to grow the sport of bowling, but that it's even more important to support the students.
"I feel that if someone takes an interest, we have to let them pursue their potential," she said.
Miller noted that her family has been involved in youth bowling for decades. They've always had youth leagues at the lanes, and her family was one of the driving forces behind the U.P. high school league when it first started in the early '90s, before fading away for a while in the Keweenaw.
Loralee's mother Laura Miller, now executive director of the Calumet Theater, was one of the driving forces behind the league's creation. It was a lot of work, she remembered, but the effort was worth it.
"It gets kids involved competing against other teams, it builds self-esteem and it's a lifetime sport," she said. "I don't think some of these kids would have a high school letter without bowling, and that's something to be proud of."
Freshman team member Jade Duqette said she'd bowled in Saturday leagues at Miller's before, but still had some reservations when she came out for the varsity team.
"But I tried it, and now I'll end up coming back next year," she said, noting that the season has led to measurable improvement.
"I used to be throwing an 8-pound ball," she said. "Now I'm up to 14."