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Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’: UVLG Closure Scatters Teams

Watching in anticipation as the ball rotates down the lane, the moment between a bowler’s release at the foul line and contact with the pins can seem like an eternity.

Now, just getting to that point has become a much longer journey for Upper Valley high school teams.

Prior to this season — just the second sanctioned by the Vermont Principals Association — the area’s bowling schools were forced to find new homes after the abrupt closure of Upper Valley Lanes & Games in White River Junction last summer. A spacious facility featuring candlepin and tenpin lanes, UVLG hosted home matches for Hartford, South Royalton, Windsor, Oxbow and Rivendell Academy as well as team and individual state tournament matches last winter.

Its closing placed teams in a scramble to find new facilities willing to set aside lanes for their matches and practices. The Hurricanes and Yellowjackets moved southward to Springfield (Vt.) Bowl, the Olympians north to Gold Crown Lanes in St. Johnsbury, Vt., and the Royals up the road a bit to Valley Bowl in Randolph. The Raptors aren’t fielding a team this year.

Relocating has presented new challenges for all of the teams rolling forward, most notably Hartford, whose coach, Mark Hamilton, spearheaded the league and helped direct it as a club sport for several years. The Canes’ round-trip commute from Hartford High has increased from about four miles to roughly 70 now that they’re operating out of Springfield.

“I don’t think we realized how spoiled we were, having such a great facility in our back yard,” said Hamilton. “We had great support there. Their staff was very proactive and integral to our success.”

As shocking and disappointing as it was when UVLG closed in August, Hamilton said he never considered folding the team. After all, it was the Enfield resident and Hartford High drivers education instructor who founded the sport at the club level in 2009 and helped it grow from less than a half-dozen ramshackle squads its first year into the 11 varsity teams it carries today.

“We had to find a way to continue, just like everybody else,” said Hamilton, whose team carries 10 boys and a girl this year. “We weren’t just going to roll up the rug and call it quits. We just have to travel now. That’s the biggest difference.”

Travel isn’t the biggest issue facing the Royals — Valley Bowl is about four miles closer to South Royalton School than UVLG was — but they’re dealing with much less space. The Randolph facility contains eight lanes, far fewer than UVLG housed and just enough to host a typical match.

The Royals have 10 bowlers this year under first-year coach Shannon Palone. “It’s a little closer, but a lot smaller,” said Palone, an assistant last year under Erica Audette. “Usually the matches have four teams and, most of the time, we all have (junior varsity) teams, so that takes up eight lanes right there. (Valley Bowl) has been very good to us, but if one of the lanes goes down because of a mechanical problem — which happens from time to time no matter where you are, problems with the gutter and things like that — we’re going to have people waiting to use lanes.”

The Olympians’ trek to St. Johnsbury is only five miles farther each way than it had been to White River Junction, but Oxbow has still felt some effects of the switch.

“We were definitely sad to see (UVLG) go,” said O’s co-coach Seth Bean. “They were very gracious hosts, and because it was the home to so many (area teams), we kind of got to know each other, and it was just a great place to bowl. Now we’re going a little bit further, and it’s just a little bit harder.”

Windsor coach Steve Bly said his team has been largely unaffected, given Windsor’s equidistant location between White River and Springfield. A state semifinalist a year ago, the Jacks have six girls and five boys this year and recently won a home match at Springfield Bowl.

“We lucked out in that Springfield is pretty much just as close,” Bly said. “Plus we’re really excited about the season. We’re better than last year.”

Hamilton said he’d gathered that Rivendell dropped its program primarily because of the UVLG closure. Raptors athletic director Bob Thatcher could not be reached for comment.

This year’s team state tournament will be staged at Twin City Lanes in Berlin, Vt., which hosts first-year program Spaulding High, among other schools. As director of the Vermont Bowling Committee, Hamilton is still trying to find a location for the individual state tournament, preferably to be held within a week of team states.

“That’s a challenge we still face,” Hamilton said. “That was the other great thing about Upper Valley Lanes & Games, they were always open to having all of these different events. We even had the Twin State Bowl Off there, where we had seniors from Vermont against seniors from New Hampshire at the end of the season. So we’re looking for a place to host that as well.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.