No time to spare: Upper Valley bowling teams lack home lanes

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-06-2023 8:30 PM

CLAREMONT — The Hartford High bowling team used to have it easy.

When it was open, the Hurricanes practiced at Upper Valley Lanes and Games in White River Junction, less than a 10-minute bus ride from the high school. The short commute left plenty of time for the team to get in as much practice as they needed. But the local bowling center closed in 2013, and since then, Hartford has trekked to Maple Lanes in Claremont for twice-weekly practices.

What’s more, Hurricanes coach Cean Lieberman and his two assistants do not work at the school, so the team has to wait until around 4 p.m. for them to arrive with the bus before the half-hour ride to Claremont. That gives the bowlers around an hour and a half to practice before an adult bowling league takes over Maple Lanes at 6:30.

“It’s enough to get some things in motion. (But) I would like more time,” Lieberman said. “I wish I could have practice three or four days a week, but with my schedule and the other coaches’ schedules, that’s just not possible.”

Lieberman said the longer commute does not put Hartford at a disadvantage because it dips into the Canes’ practice time, but it has dissuaded some students from joining the team. Seemingly every year, Lieberman said, Hartford is low on sign-ups until right before the season starts. The Hurricanes have six bowlers this winter, one more than the five needed for matches under the Baker scoring system used in the high school game.

With two weeks left in the regular season, Hartford is in ninth place out of 12 Vermont schools in the standings, after finishing third in a four-team event in Claremont on Saturday.

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“Without a local bowling alley, I don’t have local kids bowling,” Lieberman said. “A lot of parents don’t want to drive for kids’ leagues or open bowls. If we still had the kids’ leagues and White River Junction still had an open bowling alley, I would have a lot more kids than I have now, and probably more experience.”

The two other Upper Valley schools in Vermont with bowling teams, Windsor and White River Valley, are also without bowling centers in their towns, though neither has to travel as far as Hartford. The Yellowjackets make the shorter trip to Claremont, while the Wildcats head up Interstate 89 to Valley Bowl in Randolph.

White River Valley’s commute is a bit more complicated — the high school bowlers are picked up by the bus just after 4, then the middle school team is picked up in Bethel. The Wildcats have 4:30 to 6 p.m. reserved for practice, Monday and Friday, but often don’t arrive in Randolph until closer to 5, which coach Robynn Martin said forces her to rush through drills.

Despite those challenges, WRV has made substantial progress this season with a largely inexperienced team. The Wildcats, among the smallest schools in Vermont to field a bowling team, are tied for 10th in the standings, but Martin said nearly everyone on the roster has improved significantly.

“From the start of the season in November to now, almost all of them have raised their weekly average by 20 pins,” Martin said. “Some of them are now always getting above 100, where before, they were barely crossing 60 pins.”

Windsor, like Hartford, used Upper Valley Lanes and Games for practice before it closed, then went to Springfield Bowl for two years before switching to Maple Lanes, which was both closer and less expensive.

The Yellowjackets have 10 bowlers this season, enough for separate varsity and junior varsity teams, and they won Saturday’s event, moving up to third place in the state after defeating Fair Haven in the championship round. Coach Steve Bly’s bowlers drive themselves to practice right after school on Thursdays and Fridays, and they usually start around 4:15.

The travel issue is hardly unique to bowling — snow sports, golf and swimming, among others, require off-campus practice facilities — but as Vermont only has 12 bowling centers, it is one all three teams will need to continue working around.

“It would be beneficial for us to have a closer bowling alley, but that’s probably something that will never happen,” Lieberman said. “We just try to do our best with what we’ve got and keep them wanting to join the team.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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