It was an April evening in Canton, Mich. A line of red-clad Cornhuskers took their turns on the lanes, throwing strike after strike against underdog, Central Missouri State. Excitement grew in the packed bowling center, and applause filled the facility as Nebraska captured their third NCAA title in six seasons, all in front of a national television audience.
Back in Loretto, Erika Renwick watched the NCAA women's bowling broadcasts with a newly heightened interest. As the Senior Associate Director of Athletics at Saint Francis University, she will be very busy in the coming year, establishing the new Red Flash women's bowling team.
"We were looking for a women's team to add, to stay with our gender equity plan for the department," said Renwick. "We found bowling to be an NEC (Northeast Conference) championship sport, which would give our student-athletes a championship experience."
Women's bowling is considered one of the fastest-growing sports in the NCAA, with nearly 60 schools currently competing nationwide. The St. Francis bowling program will be the eighth member of the Northeast Conference, which held its first-ever NEC bowling championship this past March.
Pennsylvania bowlers are among the women competing in the NEC right now, including conference player of the year Jacquelyn Heimbach from Easton, and her Kutztown teammate, Kayla Jones, a graduate of Westmont-Hilltop High School in District 6.
These college stars undoubtedly grew up in bowling alleys, playing in Saturday morning youth leagues and weekend tournaments. Visit any local bowling facility, and you'll see up-and-coming young athletes, rolling their way toward adulthood. Most won't have the chance to compete on the collegiate level.
The Red Flash program will bring another Division I prospect to Loretto, where bowling will be the 13th women's varsity sport at St. Francis, and some scholarships will be available.
There is plenty or work for Renwick, along with Athletic Director Bob Krimmel, to do to prepare for the student-athletes' arrival in the fall of 2010, from hiring a head coach to choosing uniforms, and even selecting a bowling center to serve as the team's home lanes.
Renwick says they'll start with about seven student-athletes on the team, and eventually grow to around ten. The national search for the new head coach is already underway, and then recruiting will begin on a local, regional and national basis.
The new team's goals will be similar to those of all of the Red Flash sports: win an NEC title, and build a solid, respectable program, both athletically and academically.
"I think women's athletics have grown a great deal, and should continue to be brought to the forefront," Renwick said.
In 2011, the cheer "Let's Go Flash" will be echoing through local lanes.
Goodman can be reached at email@example.com.