Bowling Success Strikes Oberlin

December 11, 2013
Phoebe Hammer
Photo credit: Gregory Wikstrom

For more than 30 years, the Oberlin College intercollegiate bowling team has remained active, consistent, and largely unnoticed. But this year things are different.

The A-squad, or Crimson team, is having its best season in history, currently averaging around 218 in tournaments. Senior Griffin Sabelli, who grew up in Oberlin, is ranked second in the country for collegiate bowlers. “I can’t really put a finger on why it is, but I guess I am having a pretty good year,” says Sabelli.

Tom Reid ’80Seniors Johnnie Kallas and David Morris are also making a huge impact. “Historically we have not had many students who come into Oberlin already as bowlers. We usually have to grow them from the ground up,” says Tom Reid, the team’s head coach and founder. “In fall of 2010, the stars aligned and we had three accomplished freshmen come in.”

Still, this year’s success hasn’t come easily. Because there are no divisions in college bowling and regardless of the team’s limited resources, Oberlin is aligned with some of the most successful programs in the country. As a member of The American Heartland Intercollegiate Bowling Conference (AHIBC), Oberlin faces top-ranked teams in nearly every competition, including Notre Dame College, Saginaw Valley State, University of Michigan, and The Ohio State University. “Even though we have a very small program, we go against the best bowlers in the country,” says Kallas.

Despite these obstacles, the men’s bowling team is ranked 78th in the nation. As the top 80 teams qualify for sectionals in March, Oberlin will likely attend, a feat that the team has never accomplished before. “We had a narrow miss a couple years ago,” says Reid, “but I think this is the year. That’s the plan.”

{% embed oberlin_newshub.image 387side="right" %}Although the team still has several more tournaments, enthusiasm is high. “We just have to hold on from here. We have to go after it still and attack at the tournaments, but I think we have a great shot this year,” says Sabelli.

While it is important to focus on competing, the players emphasize that bowling here is not just about winning. “More than anything else, it’s about the relationships I’ve made,” says Kallas. “I’ve developed great friendships and have found a great mentor and friend in Tom. Bowling is also the best conduction of town and gown in the community. As a college kid I’ve been a lot more exposed to the community as whole. For me personally that’s really important.”

Perhaps it is the unique Oberlin bowling experience that allows this talent to flourish. “At other schools, I think it’s hard to get lessons in, but here, Tom makes himself so available. I think that’s the best part of it” Sabelli says. “Also, at big bowling schools like Wichita State and Saginaw, I can imagine there is a lot of pressure. Here, it’s more relaxed.” The team has only two mandatory practices per week; the rest of the training is on members’ own schedules.

When these seniors three graduating in May, the team will take a heavy loss, but they say that they are confident about the future. “Tom is great at developing talent and we have some other great bowlers on the team,” says Kallus. The squad also recently hired Assistant Coach Trevor Hagedorn, an extremely accomplished bowler from Wichita State. “All of these things will keep us competitive in years to come,” says Kallas.

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