From humble beginnings more than 60 years ago to recent explosive growth across the country, high school bowling has come along way.
The first officially recorded competition occurred in 1937 when Chicago's Milt Raymer, an American Bowling Congress Hall of Famer,organized a four-team boys' league at Tilden Technical High School in Chicago. Word of Raymer's program quickly spread to other schools, and soon the Chicago High School Bowling Club was developed to govern high school bowling activities.
Other areas of the country became interested and Raymer began operating the American High School Bowling Congress from his basement in 1941. The program was temporarily discontinued when Raymer entered the military in 1942, but reinstated upon his discharge in 1946.
The National Bowling Council, organized in 1946, took over sponsorship of Raymer's group later that year and renamed it the"American Junior Bowling Congress" in 1947, with the focus changing to include youth of all ages, rather than just high school students. The sport gradually grew in popularity over the years and reached a milestone when New Jersey became one of the first states to recognize high school bowling in 1958.
In 1964, the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America and AJBC began separate youth programs due to philosophical differences. The BPAA created its own Youth Bowling Association in conjunction with the National Federation of State High School Associations, which brought bowling to schools in the form of intramural programs and physical education classes. The AJBC continued under the auspices of the ABC and the Women's International Bowling Congress, and moved its office to Milwaukee.After years of discussions between the groups, the Young American Bowling Alliance was created in 1982, combining AJBC and YBA.
During this time, high school varsity bowling flourished in different parts of the country. While states like New York and New Jersey had recognized varsity bowling for quite some time, major cities such as Miami and Chicago granted varsity status to bowling in the 1960s and '70s.
More recently, the Northern Illinois Bowling Proprietors Association and the Bowling Centers Association of Michigan underscored the importance of high school bowling with their strong programs in the Rockford, Ill., area and statewide in Michigan.
That model was followed in southern Illinois, where the first Illinois High School Boys Club Championship Tournament was started in 1998. Many other states used the framework of the Illinois program to implement their own.
In 1998, The Billiard Bowling Institute of America partnered with the BPAA and the YABA to produce two marketing videos-one each for proprietors and athletic directors-that were an integral part of the newly created "Give Me a B for Varsity Bowling" program. During the 1998-99 school year, four states recognized bowling as a high school sport and about 18,000 students took to the lanes to compete at 1,633 schools.
In January 2001, the BPAA appointed a task force to promote high school bowling throughout the United States. The group rewrote the"Give Me a B" Varsity Bowling Manual as well as recommendations for the duties of the National Director of High School Bowling, a position created to oversee this program. The executive directors of ABC, WIBC and YABA approved a BPAA proposal to create a national program and funded the industry-wide initiative. Today high school bowling continues to enjoy industry support as the United States Bowling Congress High School program, renamed after the 2005 merger of the ABC, WIBC, ABC and USA Bowling to form the USBC.
In the last decade, participation in high school bowling has nearly tripled. Under the guidance of the USBC High School program, varsity high school bowling currently exists in 19 states and at the club level in another 28 states. During the 2007-08 season, more than 52,000 students competed at 4,656 schools that offered high school varsity bowling competition. In fact, bowling was the largest-growing high school sport in the 2007-08 school year, continuing a decade-long trend, according to the most recent National Federation of State High School Associations participation survey.
Each year high school bowling grows as schools elevate club programs to varsity status and new states start programs.