Four years ago, the Daily Journal published an article written by Dennis Yohnka, "Is bowling really dead?" The article discussed the decline of small town bowling culture, and focused on the Herscher School District's cutting of the high school's girls' team from the budget.
"Being part of the bowling league used to be as much a part of Midwestern life as attending church on Sunday mornings or high school football games on Friday nights," wrote Yohnka in the 2014 article.
"It was almost antisocial if your bowling handicap and last week's scores weren't posted at one of the smoky little alleys that used to flourish in places like Manteno, Cissna Park, Chebanse, Gilman, St. Anne, Iroquois and hundreds of other small towns across the country."
When coach and co-coordinator for Brookmont Bowling Alley's Saturday Youth League, Mike Patterson, saw that article all those years ago, he decided to lead the effort of bringing Kankakee County back to the golden age of bowling.
"After seeing the 2014 article and agreeing with a lot of the stuff in there about needing to bring awareness to bowling, I realized we needed to build a foundation in the grade schools," Patterson said.
"Someone told me once that it's just a cycle — we go through trends and we trend down. But you can't wait for bowling to trend back up because maybe it won't. Sometimes, you just have to get out there and give it a kick to get things turned around."
For this kick, Patterson has been working with the Kankakee Bowling Association that he is a member of to promote bowling among the youth in the area. The association plans to do this by strengthening the youth bowling league and building partnerships with local grade schools to incorporate bowling into physical education classes.
But Patterson said that trying to get the schools to hear him out has been a struggle. While adding bowling into the curriculum would cost the district, Patterson pointed out that the United States Bowling Congress offers grant opportunities for schools to start bowling programs. He added that if he could tack an additional $2 onto the sanction fee the 1,000 Kankakee Bowling Association members pay yearly, that could pay for a few schools' programs.
"Hopefully, our youth league will grow in popularity and the schools will realize there's growth here and an interest," Patterson said. "Then they could create teams and start competing against other schools within their districts."
But this might seem like a lofty goal since youth memberships to the Kankakee Bowling Association have dwindled throughout the years. There are 46 youth members now, and Patterson said he remembers there being up to 70 when his son was competing 15 years ago.
"It's tough to compete against soccer and football, but we have a lot of parents whose kids do play soccer or football, but they're also in bowling. When they can't make it they're not there, but when the child isn't playing a game and can be bowling, they are," Patterson said. "It's a tribute to the commitment of parents to their kids bowling."
For those students who do make room in their busy schedules, there are plenty of benefits to reap. Bowling promotes muscle growth, improves balance, promotes flexibility, relieves stress, promotes teamwork and even brings scholarship opportunities for the best of the best. Patterson said he's coached an area man who received a scholarship from Robert Morris University.
To gain support from the community, Brookmont Bowling Center and the Kankakee Bowling Association have two fundraisers planned for the month of March. Today, Brookmont will be hosting its second annual High School Invitational. Then, on March 11, the Kankakee Bowling Association will hold its first Youth Scholarship Singles Tournament. The money made from the tournament entry fees, along with donations from event sponsors, such as Adcraft Printers and Christine Coats, DDS., will go toward scholarships for local kids.
"Bowling is a beautiful sport. It's just you against the lane and the pins," Patterson said. "I hope to see it grow with the youth because from there, it's going to expand the adult bowling community. Who knows — maybe I'll get to watch one of our youth on TV one day, bowling professionally."