Port Angeles High School freshman Zoey Van Gordon is one of 12 players on the new girls bowling team that began competing this month under coach Becky Gunderson. Athletic director Dwayne Johnson said the school added bowling to its sports calendar to help improve girls’ athletic participation, which has been in decline. The team practices at Laurel Lanes. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles High School freshman Zoey Van Gordon is one of 12 players on the new girls bowling team that began competing this month under coach Becky Gunderson. Athletic director Dwayne Johnson said the school added bowling to its sports calendar to help improve girls’ athletic participation, which has been in decline. The team practices at Laurel Lanes. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

Bowling team aims to get girls involved in athletics

Port Angeles joins Sequim in Olympic League competition

PORT ANGELES — Becky Gunderson was in the middle of teaching her class of fifth-graders at Hamilton Elementary when she got the news that she had been hired to coach Port Angeles High School’s new girls bowling team.

Athletic director Dwayne Johnson came in person to tell her that the first practice was that afternoon at 3:30 at Laurel Lanes.

“I’m thinking, ‘OK, I have a hair appointment, but I’ll cancel that,’” said Gunderson, who had only interviewed the day before for the position.

Johnson said work on establishing bowling at the high school began about three years ago to increase opportunities for girls to play sports following a slow decline in their participation numbers. COVID-19 restrictions delayed the team’s introduction, but the question of how to boost the number of girls participating in sports continued.

“It’s across the country,” Johnson said. “The challenge we have is reconnecting these student athletes and fully engaging them with an activity or athletic opportunity. When we can get them involved in two activities — like music and sports — we have a 100 percent graduation rate.”

Johnson said the team would not have happened without the support of Laurel Lanes owner Vern Elkhart.

“He’s been my grounding rod in trying to get this off the ground,” Johnson said. “We made him an honorary team captain to thank him.”

With just three days to practice before their first match Nov. 21 and a roster that is still a work in progress, the fast start has had Gunderson and Port Angeles (1-1) playing catchup to the five other teams competing in the 2A Olympic League (Bremerton, Klahowya, North Mason, Olympic and Sequim), whose season began Oct. 31.

“We really just got thrown in, so we’re learning as we go, watching other players,” Gunderson said.

None of the players had bowled competitively before joining the team. Even for Gunderson, who has coached volleyball, soccer, track and basketball, bowling was something new.

“I’m still learning,” Gunderson said. “But I think picking one skill at a time for each bowler and saying, ‘Let’s work on your approach or your rotation or your release.’ That’s the cool thing about bowling, too, is there’s no one-size-fits-all. You find what works for them.”

The team was still four players short of a full roster of 12 at its first match against Olympic High School at Laurel Lanes. But they looked sharp in their brand-new short-sleeve green shirts and matching black slacks, even if they did have to rent their bowling shoes and use the lane’s balls.

Team captain Taylor Worthington, 18, is a softball player who decided to turn out for bowling because it sounded fun.

“I heard about it and thought I’d try it,” Worthington said.

“We are not a bowling family,” said Taylor’s mom, Morgan Worthington. “But she has time in her schedule and we thought it would be a great thing for her to do. And it isn’t often that you have the opportunity to be at the beginning of something.”

Zooey Van Gordon’s parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles all bowl, but the freshman’s experience was limited to rolling the ball down the lane at birthday parties.

“Her dad was so excited when she joined the team,” said Zooey’s mom, Jaymie Van Gordon. “He drilled a ball for her and he’s getting off work early so he can come down and watch her.”

Port Angeles beat Olympic 4-3, but lost to the Trojans on the road the following night at All Star Lanes in Silverdale. Gunderson said it was nonetheless a great experience.

“It was exciting because all six Olympic League teams were there,” Gunderson said. “And it was a bit overwhelming because there are girls showing up with their little rolling ball bags and shoes and wrist guards.”

Due to its packed schedule, the team will have few opportunities to practice together, so Elkhart is providing discounts to players so they can work on their game on their own, Gunderson said.

“Kudos to Vern, who just seems like he will bend over backwards for kids who want this opportunity,” she said.

As for her strategy for this season, Gunderson said it’s pretty simple: “Just build an appreciation for the sport, find enjoyment in the sport, and keep it fun.”

Port Angeles High School girls bowling schedule can be found at tinyurl.com/rxhh2xnx.

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@soundpublishing.com.

Becky Gunderson (standing) coaches the new girls bowling team at Port Angeles High School which began competing this month. Athletic director Dwayne Johnson said the school added bowling to its sports calendar to help improve girls’ athletic participation, which has been in decline. The team practices at Laurel Lanes. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

Becky Gunderson (standing) coaches the new girls bowling team at Port Angeles High School which began competing this month. Athletic director Dwayne Johnson said the school added bowling to its sports calendar to help improve girls’ athletic participation, which has been in decline. The team practices at Laurel Lanes. (Paula Hunt/Peninsula Daily News)

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