Story by Randy Whetstone Jr.
Photos courtesy of Julie Nichelson
The Pleasure Ridge Park girls’ bowling team recently won the state title during the state bowling championships held at Executive Strike & Spare on Phillips Lane. While the program has been successful over the years, many people may not know how Coach Julie Nichelson and her staff are able to produce great bowlers year-in and year-out, not to mention the number of obstacles the bowlers have been able to overcome. I had the chance to speak with Coach Nichelson about winning the state title and what has made this program so successful.
Describe what it means to win the bowling state title.
Winning a state title is the ultimate goal of every team and individual in high school sports. We have been fortunate to be able to win several times, but the process of doing so never gets easier.
How would you describe the program’s success over the years?
Our program has been strong since the beginning of high school bowling as a club sport in 2000. Our girls have won 10 state titles overall: five titles and one runner-up in the KHSAA era and five before that when it was sponsored by the Kentucky Bowling Proprietors Association. The boys team has one title from the years before KHSAA and two state runner-up finishes in the KHSAA era. It is rare for one or both teams to not be at the state tournament, and we usually finish in the top eight or better.
What made this season special?
For our girls, this season was special because they were able to win this title after a two-year absence from the state tournament. In both of those years, we expected to be there, and were upset in the semifinals of our regional tournament. When it happened the first time, it bothered us, but when it happened a second time, it shook our confidence a little. This season we were able to regain our confidence in the system we have in place of developing our bowlers and it leading to success.
In what ways has the team knocked down the pins of life? In other words, how have you seen the team overcome obstacles to win a state title?
One of our best skilled bowlers on the girls’ team was unable to bowl this season due to a shoulder surgery in late October. She still attended every practice and match – even on the day of her surgery – to support her team and for them to support her in her healing. We have had a few other girls and boys suffer minor injuries during the season, as well. Our boys had two bowlers out with emergency appendectomies this season, and all of our bowlers were affected by the loss of one of the teachers at the school this fall. For most of them, getting to bowl gives them a chance to have positive results when other things in life are not so kind.
What type of culture have you established as a coach?
Our school is fortunate to have a coaching staff that works well together as a team. I became head coach in the 2008-2009 season. Don James has been with us since the early years – shortly after the school started the program – and is the heart and soul of the girl’s program. Phil Bohannon came on the staff the same season as I did, and Kevin Cox joined us in 2012-2013.
We strive to work as a team to set an example for the bowlers to work together the same way that we do. We encourage their best efforts not just in their bowling but in their academics, community service and respect for each other, for those who support them and for their opponents.
What is needed to sustain success for this program?
This program is sustained by several things: first and foremost is the support of the owners of Dixie Bowl, the Carter family, who have given us a place to practice and host home matches for a reasonable cost. Several businesses in the community offer financial support in the way of donations directly to the program or by donating door prize for our annual No-Tap fundraiser.
We also have fabulous support from our parents and extended families. This allows us as coaches and players to be able to focus our time almost exclusively on teaching and learning to bowl without distraction. This also allows us to keep every interested bowler (on the team) and field junior varsity teams rather than having to cut bowlers. The junior varsity program lets us have more continuity by developing younger bowlers who are at a skill level to join and contribute to the varsity program as other bowlers graduate and move on to adult leagues or college bowling. VT