October 4, 2021

MEHLER | Bowling Together

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While the Ivy League may be a Division I athletic conference, you don’t need to be a varsity athlete to find community in Cornell sports.

While Bruce Monger has captured the heart of every person to take Earth and Atmospheric Sciences 1540: Intro to Oceanography (including myself), Jon LaRock fails to receive the recognition he deserves for having students fall in love with bowling.  Cornell’s physical education department offers a massive array of courses, yet hundreds of students take Physical Education 1300: Bowling every semester.  Something magical must be happening at the Helen Newman Lanes.

After herniating disks in my lower back between high school and college, I wondered how I was going to complete the two semester Physical Education waiting for me at Cornell.  I hurdled for my track team all throughout high school and felt like a part of me died when I learned I wouldn’t be able to run, much less hurdle, for at least the next two years.  Somewhat defeatedly, I enrolled in bowling as a fall freshman. In my first class, I asked Jon if he could teach me how to bowl without hurting my back and while I was expecting a dismissal or unhelpful response, Jon simply asked: “Ever bowl two-handed?.” 

After being taught how to throw in this funky way, the dominoes all fell in line: I joined the bowling club, took the class again in the spring, bought my own ball, bought my own shoes and started consistently scoring over 200 (which isn’t half-bad for your average bowler).  But after Covid hit in March, I stopped bowling altogether until just a month ago when the Bowling Club returned.  Coming back to bowling after a year and a half away from the lanes, I was reminded of how much I valued not just the physical activity and de-stressor of launching a fifteen-pound ball at some wooden pins, but the community bowling provided.  I have had the pleasure of serving as the Club Sports Council President for the past year and as I wrap up my term with the Council, I wanted to share not just my personal story with club sports but my observations of the over one hundred other sports clubs that not only give students a place to play but a place to find community.

Within bowling, I have found friends across every college, dozens of majors and a range of skill levels.  Some of my friends should really reconsider accepting that consulting job offer after college and join a professional league of bowlers post-college.  Some of us, including myself, should be thankful for the opportunity to bowl every Tuesday and Thursday while understanding that professional aspirations are far from within our reach.

In talking with other club sports members, I have had the opportunity to work with swimmers, basketball players, ballroom dancers and more.  In each community, you not only see the passion that students have for their sport, but the bonds they genuinely hold with one another.  Club sports give students the opportunity to stay active and find new communities in sports they would have never played otherwise.  I know that the commitment students make to their high school sports is one of profound dedication and hard work, but at the Division I level, not all students can compete in the Ivy League.  Varsity athletics might not be in reach for some of us, but the opportunity to be passionate about your sport is alive in every corner of Cornell.  Club Fest might have passed already, but club sports are always looking for new members to join our community; I can promise you that you will always have at least one person at the lanes who is looking to welcome new bowlers into their clubs and second homes. 

Patrick J. Mehler is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. His column The Mehl-Man Delivers runs every other Tuesday this semester.