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A New Kind of Game

August 02, 2012

By Ashley Conrad, Bethany (Kan.) College, NAIA Virtual Intern, Class of 2013

HILLSBORO, Kan. - Tabor College (Kan.), a Christian institution in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC), has added bowling to its repertoire of sports for the 2011-2012 school year. With head coach Todd Zenner, the Bluejays will look to take this evolving sport to the next level.

Bowling is considered an "emerging " sport in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). According to the NAIA official website, a sport is deemed "emerging" if it is recognized by the organization as a varsity sport, but does not sponsor an official national championship tournament. Additionally, 25-49 schools must participate in the program. To qualify as a "championship" sport, 50 or more institutions must designate bowling as a varsity sport.

The NAIA added men's bowling to the national championships list in 1962. A national championship was sponsored until 1978 when it was dropped from the organization. 2010 marked a resurgence in bowling upon gaining varsity sponsorship for men and women and creating the first national invitational in 2011.

Tabor is now making its mark in Kansas collegiate bowling. From an article in the Hillsboro
Free Press by Katie Morford and Don Ratzlaff, Tabor wanted to attract more students by adding the sport. The Vice President of Athletics, Rusty Allen, commented, "Nearly all of the schools in the city of Wichita and the suburbs have bowling teams with large numbers of people on them."

By adding bowling, Kansas high school bowlers will have the opportunity to compete in another arena at the collegiate level.

Tabor's breakthrough idea needed someone with experience and desire to head the team. Then head coach Todd Zenner came along. Zenner is no stranger to the popular ten-pin game. Morford and Ratzlaff explain that Zenner bowled for Wichita State, when they claimed the national title in 1993. He also had a stint on the professional tour and owned a pro shop in Dallas, Texas. There he offered lessons to beginners and pros alike.

Raised in Newton, Kan., Zenner is glad to be coaching close to home.

"It is nice to be home where I made a name for myself, but most of all it is nice to be back with my 9 year old daughter."

When the position opened, he jumped at the opportunity to coach the Bluejays.

"I was hired to build a successful bowling program at Tabor and to recruit good student-athletes. Tabor wanted to be one of the first to add bowling as a varsity sport in the KCAC and NAIA."

He hopes his upbringing in the area will be an advantage to the recruiting process. Although Zenner did not help much with the process this year, a majority of the bowlers hail from south central Kansas. In the future, Zenner's athletes should be more than a bowler.

"What I look for is the student/athlete that is ready to get an education first and foremost. I want all my athletes to get an education. I also look for the student that fits what we stand for at Tabor. There [sic] bowling game is important but not the only thing I look for."

Daniel Brodell, a sophomore (academically) transferred from Imperial Valley College in Imperial, Calif., fits those characteristics. Brodell isn't like the other bowlers. He started bowling when he was 17 and has only had three years of competitive experience. However, Tabor College attracted the West Coast native.

"I felt like it was God's calling. I denied a scholarship to come here. Something told me to give it a shot."

Like Brodell, fellow bowler, Austin Jones gave Tabor a chance. Jones is a freshman from nearby Newton, Kan.

"I was attracted to the making history part of a first year program." He was also influenced by
Zenner taking the head coach position. "That was a selling point to me. Zenner and I go way back."

Both the men and women's teams are currently redshirted this season. Coach Zenner believes the teams lack experience and needs the year to improve. They will compete all over the United States, with Wichita State University and Newman University being the closest competition. Regional coaches have a plan in the works to create a conference with schools that are no further than four hours away. Their official season runs from October to April, when the national invitational is held.

Even though the teams are not eligible to compete nationally, Zenner still has the drive to make the Bluejays the best they can be.

"I will do my best to use my experinces [sic] and knowledge of the game to prepare my teams for competition and I will use my love and passion for the game to make them successful in bowling and life."

And what would make the team the best? Beating the best. According to Zenner, the best is his alma mater, Wichita State University.

All the bowlers have a positive outlook for the future. The athletes hope the program continues to grow and they are excited for the chance to compete in national tournaments next year. Brodell states that bowling is, "One of the things I look forward to besides academics."

This optimistic attitude will enhance their development and experience as a team.

The NAIA Bowling Invitational Proposal Committee has scheduled the second invitational tournament for March 30-April 1, 2012 in Indianapolis, Ind. Since the Bluejays have redshirted this year, they will not be attending the invitational. They plan to compete in the tournament in 2013.