VAN WERT – The bowling careers of Shiann Kraft, Lorrie Decker, Chloe Spry and Nathan Bidlack have varied widely, but all four paths have led to big-time success and trips to OHSAA Division II district tournaments at Interstate Lanes in Rossford. The girls competition is at 5 p.m. this Thursday, the boys at 5 p.m Friday.
Kraft, Decker, and Bidlack started bowling in bumper leagues (rails are placed to keep the ball from going into the gutter) almost as soon as they could lift a ball and propel it down the lane. Spry, on the other hand, didn’t take up bowling until she joined the Van Wert team as a freshman in high school.
Kraft and Decker come from “bowling families,” with all the advantages that entails. Neither Spry’s family nor Bidlack’s family are major bowling enthusiasts.
Decker has six bowling balls that she selects from, depending upon lane conditions. Bidlack has four, from which he selects based upon lane conditions and a specific need (e.g. straight ball to take out a 10-pin). On the other extremes are Spry and Kraft. For her freshman year, Spry was given a “straight” (no curve) ball by a friend, was loaned a “reactive” (curving) ball her sophomore year, and finally bought her own ball this year from her best friend’s father. Kraft always used a “house” ball (provided by the “house,” which is what bowlers call a bowling establishment) until this year when she finally got her own ball.
Decker, Spry, and Bidlack are students of the oil pattern being used on a given day in a given bowling establishment; they adjust their games based upon their knowledge of the pattern. Kraft, on the other hand, seems to care less about the pattern, but simply uses her 10-15 minutes of warmup to determine how to adjust.
All four exemplify the growth of youth bowling at Van Wert’s Olympic Lanes.
“Lots of young talent coming out of this house right now,” said Kevin Decker, Lorrie’s father and the Van Wert girls coach. “Within six years I think Van Wert High School might be right up there with Coldwater, St. Marys, and other top programs. I’m thrilled to come back (after several years of not coaching) and see Van Wert High School acknowledge it as a high school sport. They’ve been very supportive. That’s been nice to see.”
High school bowlers are not allowed to participate in other youth bowling leagues during the high school season, but typically will compete in those leagues prior to and after their high school season.
As for the inevitable nervousness on the big stage this weekend, Kevin Decker isn’t overly concerned.
“I look for them to be nervous before, but once the first few frames are out, like most athletes, then they start focusing,” said Decker. “I don’t think they’ll be nervous after the first few balls.”
Twelve teams and 12 individual qualifiers will compete in the Rossford Division II district on Thursday. Ditto for the boys on Friday. The top three teams and top three individuals not on one of the top three teams will advance to the state tournament in Columbus on March 2 (boys) and 3 (girls).
Van Wert High School has competed in the West Ohio High School Bowling Conference since its inception — boys in 1999-2000, girls in 2001-02. Bowling became a Western Buckeye League sport in 2015-16. Lincolnview started its bowling program as a club sport in 2016-17. Lincolnview High School sponsors the teams as participants in the OHSAA state tournament.
Kevin Decker coaches the Van Wert girls. Jeff Kreischer coaches the Van Wert boys. Neil Korte and Tyla Mason coach Lincolnview.
Following is some information on the four district qualifiers.
Junior at Van Wert High School. First team all-WBL in 2017-18 season. WOHSBC average: 199.7. WBL average: 211.9. Highest game ever: 289. Highest game in competition: 270. Highest 2-game series: 495. Highest 3-game series: 703. Finish at Minster sectional: 7th; 144-211-248-603.
Bidlack started off badly at Minster with a 144, then figured out the problem with his release and improved steadily from there.
“That first game what affected me the most, I could not get strike after strike,” said Bidlack. “I couldn’t get any doubles or turkeys (three strikes in a row), and that’s where you get your high pin count. That last game where I had that 248, I strung together maybe eight strikes in a row, and that’s how I was able to get that comeback.”
Bidlack started bowling in the bumper leagues at age five or thereabouts, and he’s never stopped. His only experiment with another sport came in one year of golf, which didn’t go well.
“It (bowling) is something you can do early,” he says. “My parents enjoyed bowling. They knew the basics I needed when I was younger. Then once I became more complicated and started throwing some hook on the ball and that type of stuff, that’s when I needed someone that bowls regularly to tell me what to do.”
Last year the Van Wert boys qualified for districts as a team, so Bidlack has some experience there. The other four members of that team graduated, however, so Bidlack will be going it alone this time.
“The competition is significantly higher at districts and you have to bowl a lot better,” he says.
Bidlack went on to explain another reason why it could be tougher at Rossford — the oil pattern to be used there, which is called Beaten Path — although Bidlack isn’t familiar with that pattern.
“If you’re having an off day you’re gonna expect to have a much lower score than you would here (at Olympic Lanes),” he explained. “They usually put down a sport pattern, which is what the pros and college bowlers use. On a sport pattern you really only have 1-2 inches that you can hit on that lane to get a strike, whereas on a house shot you can have anywhere from 6-10 inches to get a strike.”
Freshman at Van Wert High School. First team all-WBL in 2017-18. WOHSBC average: 193.4. WBL average: 192.9. Highest game ever: 278. Highest game in competition: 275. Highest 3-game series: 655. Finish at Minster sectional: 1st; 208-251-158-617.
Decker comes from a true bowling family. Her father, Kevin Decker, is one of the sport’s great ambassadors and takes his coaching responsibilities very seriously. After coaching Van Wert teams for a few years, he took a break from that and only returned to it this year. Lorrie’s sister, Torrie Decker Bartalone, is now the head bowling coach at Lourdes University in Sylvania. Torrie had an outstanding bowling career at Van Wert, at Robert Morris University - Illinois, and at Valparaiso University.
Lorrie started bowling in the bumper leagues, took a three-year break to try other sports (cheerleading, gymnastics, dance, volleyball), then took bowling up seriously in the sixth grade. The lefty has had outstanding success with a lot of individual tournament experience, capped off with the 2017 Ohio State Youth (13-15) Pepsi Bowling Tournament championship in May with a six-game average of 206.6.
She then hit the high school ground running with a runner-up (to Wapakoneta’s Madison Doseck) finish at the WOHSBC season-opening singles tournament at Minster.
Lorrie is a true student of the game. She’s a certified Level 1 bowling instructor and coaches the Van Wert Middle School team.
“If you tell me an oil layout, I’ll know where to start and what ball to grab,” she says. “Next year I’ll have a better outlook on things, because my dad is the coach. When he coached Torrie, he had a grasp on what lanes were gonna be hard, what to throw, what position you needed to be in. But since he hadn’t been in bowling for a long time, (this year) he wasn’t familiar with the lanes or where to play.”
Lorrie bowls every month of the year. She plans to take a one-week break soon to deal with an arm issue. Her goal is to someday bowl a 300 game.
“My New Year’s resolution is always a 300 game,” she says. “It’s gonna happen.”
Like her older sister, major college bowling is probably in the cards for Lorrie. Beyond that, Kevin Decker wouldn’t speculate.
“Lorrie plays three instruments, and she loves drawing,” said Kevin Decker. “Yet to be seen is where her true passion is. I’m not gonna be surprised if it’s bowling; I’m not gonna be surprised if it’s not.”
Sophomore at Lincolnview High School. 2017-18 season average: 155.2. Highest game ever: 223. Highest game in competition: 190. Finish at Minster sectional: 7th; 155-179-190-524.
Although Shiann Kraft started bowling in the usual way, bumper leagues at age 3, her career has otherwise not been the norm. Despite the influence of her bowling family, she actually threw a backup ball (curving left to right for a righthander) — and had a lot of success that way — until entering the Lincolnview program as a freshman.
“Freshman year, I was so happy we finally had a bowling team, because bowling is my favorite sport ever,” said Kraft. “I got to bowl with my sister (Makenzie), which was awesome. They taught me how. My dad had tried to teach me the right way, but I never figured it out until last year. Start of the season, they (the coaches) are like ‘We’ve gotta fix you,’ so here I was…spending so much time on it…learning the whole kaboodle.
“I’ve always bowled in league,” Kraft added. “I pretty much go to every competition I can. I used a house ball. I’d practice with a ball once, and I was like ‘I’m doing pretty well with this,’ then I just kept using it every time I came out here. I never had my own ball until last year when I got myself a ball.
“At sectionals I was kinda nervous because I had homecoming (that night), I didn’t know how the lanes were, what the pattern was,” said Kraft. “Started off with a 155, which was decent. Had two or three opens in the first game, then I went up from there, and I got more strikes and spares and fewer opens. I asked my coach, Neil (Korte), ‘Do you actually think I have a shot (at districts),’ and he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I think you’re definitely in the mix.’ I was on the way home on the way to the dance, and Coach texted me.”
Shiann’s sister, Makenzie, is a freshman on the UNOH women’s bowling team. After two more years at Lincolnview, Shiann hopes to join Makenzie on that team. Shiann is also on the Laneer softball team.
Senior at Van Wert High School. All-WBL honorable mention in 2017-18. WOHSBC average: 138.4. Highest game ever: 203. Highest game in competition: 197. Finish at Minster sectional: 10th; 138-164-180-482.
Chloe Spry has defied the odds. Despite bowling almost never until her freshman year, she has become an accomplished bowler and a student of the game. Prior to that she tried soccer and cheerleading in elementary school, track in mddle school, but bowling was the only sport she really liked and stuck with.
Spry’s sectional didn’t start off well.
“The first game was kinda rough,” she said. “I ended up at one point with four splits in a row. It was really hard beause I had to try and find the shot, so I was moving boards (aiming at a different one of the 39 boards in a lane) and trying to find the right mark to hit. After we switched lanes, it really helped, beause the lane conditions were different, and that helped me adjust and find my shot. I just remember thinking that I didn’t want it to be over, because bowling is something that I really love, so I didn’t want to stop.
“I’ve been aiming for districts since my freshman year,” said Spry. “They announce it at the end after everyone is done bowling. When they announced it, I looked at LJ (Lorrie Decker’s nickname) and we kinda just jumped into each other’s arms. I would have been devastated, though, if I hadn’t made it, because this is my last chance.”
Spry assessed the new experience of bowling as an individual at districts.
“It’s always fun bowling as a team, because we’re always there to hype each other up and to support each other when we’re down and getting in a bad mindset, so I think it’s definitely gonna be hard to stay positive if I shoot some bad shots, but LJ is also gonna be there, so even if we don’t sit by each other, I know that we’re gonna be watching and supporting each other, and that definitely helps.”
Spry will be attending Bluffton University next year. Bluffton doesn’t have a bowling team, but Spry would like to organize a club team, so she can continue in the sport she loves. If the club team doesn’t work out, she plans to bowl in women’s leagues at the lanes in Bluffton.