Let's face it—bowling is a sport. And if you have a professional organization for a sport, there are lower levels you must go through to get there.
Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeria all started playing ball in their backyard before they found their way into the pinstripes. You don't just wake up one day and say, "Hey, I want to go pro in ____" and then do it the next day.
Bowling is no different.
Like I've said in the past, bowling isn't as popular as some of the other sports, so it doesn't necessarily have "minor leagues" per say, but it does have outlets: Junior leagues, high school, college, regional tours, etc.
Again, before you can run, you have to walk; and before you can walk, you have to crawl.
All bowlers started by open bowling at some point in their lives. Some were born talents out of the womb like Pete Weber, whose father, Dick, was one of the greatest of all time. But for others who weren't "born to bowl," they had to pick it up on their own.
Kids are creatures that require a lot of patience to deal with, especially if you're going to breed them for a sport, especially for bowling.
They get frustrated easily, by let's say a strikeout, or many, many strikeouts; by air balls, gutterballs, you name it. People want to do well in whatever they do, it's just human nature.
Nobody likes going bowling and shooting a 26 for the game. Enter new technology.
Back in the day, the scoring we know today did not exist. Talking to the bowlers in my league, my boss used to be the best in the county, hands down. He's 75 now, and they said when he was in his prime he averaged in the high 190s and nobody could touch him.
If you average 190 today, you're about average, maybe a little better.
The ball technology has drastically changed since those days. Now balls are made with weight blocks and reactive coverstocks that help the ball grip the lane for more traction and hook for a better entry angle to the pocket, resulting in better carry, aka more strikes.
Higher scores result in happier bowlers. Like my other boss, his son, says, "Nobody wants to go home and say, 'Hey hun—I shot 520 tonight, but our team won.' They want to come home and say, 'Hey hun—shot 720 tonight and a 300."
In high school I wanted nothing more than to make the school's bowling team. We were the best in the county, and one of the best in the section—we always were.
I tried out my junior year knowing nothing about the sport. I didn't know the difference between plastic and resin balls, I didn't know how to calculate scores, I didn't know about boards or adjusting—nothing.
I tried out using a 10-pound plastic ball two-handed (how I originally bowled), and averaged 125 over two days and eight games. Needless to say, I was cut. The coach offered me a spot in the weekend league where the team bowled.
A year later, I tried out, one-handed, with a clue and a 15-pound resin ball. After averaging 195 over the same format, I made the team.
Long story short, I finished the year at 184, while the league leader was 206. That was a "high average" for 2007. The last few years the high averages of high school have been around 220.
The new technology in balls allows them to do things a ball could never do, mainly hook out of the house. YouTube until you eyes dry out, you'll never see a clip from the 1980s where a player is lofting gutters to keep the ball on the lane.
Be honest, how cool is it to see Robert Smith stand on lane 15, loft the ball onto lane 16 and demolish the pins? It opens your eyes, it grabs your attention. It's more exciting to watch Walter Ray's strike-fest up the five board.
Even if Smith loses, more often than not, people leave that match remembering Smith's strikes over Walter's.
People love seeing the action of bowling—the huge hook and explosion of pins. Not the boring straight ball that kicks out the 5-7 every frame.
As the number of honor scores continues to increase, so will the number of bowlers.