The lesson of this Friday afternoon, March 5, 1993, was patience. It was very much needed when the Shore Conference bowling championship rolled off at the HyWay 35 Lanes in Wall.
Bowling, in its own right, is a sport of patience. After all, no one is that talented to pick up a ball and roll a 200 the first time out. You need to be devoted to the sport -- like just about every other sport there is -- and commit yourself to excellence.
And for years, the Brick Memorial High School girls bowling team had done so. I was at Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick for the culmination of that excellence in 1990 when both the Mustang girls and the Brick Township High School boys teams won state championships.
Coach Marie Kobilnyk had another sensational team in the 1992-93 season, led by seniors Kris Kampf and Gina Gioia. The Mustangs had won their divisional title with a senior-laden team. On this day, though, the Mustangs would not have one of their seniors, Gioia, who was out sick.
This wasn't just a senior with experience. She was a two-time All-County bowler. This sounded like a bad loss, but enter backup Diane Jobes. Gioia's loss would not be so bad in the end.
To qualify for the Shore Conference Championship, teams from both Ocean County and Monmouth County had to finish in the top two in the four total divisions, meaning 16 boys and girls teams would compete for the two team championships.
But as bowling got underway for the 3 p.m. event that afternoon, something was missing. There were 15 teams there. One team had not shown up and its non-presence was immediately felt.
Ocean County South Division co-representative Central Regional, a team of free spirits and coached by the affable Arlene Leperi, had not gotten there. Word soon got to the bowling house that the Central Regional bus had been caught in an early afternoon car accident on the Garden State Parkway coming up from Bayville and all on the bus as well as the surrounding traffic had to patiently wait until things got cleaned up.
Fun-loving, free-spirited Central Regional. Yes, the Golden Eagles were. Central Regional had just started the program. And by bowling at their nearby Thunderbowl house off of Route 9, the Golden Eagles became very, very good immediately. Just six days before this Shore Conference event, the Golden Eagles had gone away with the South Jersey championship.
So while teams were bowling their first games, there was one Monmouth County team that was going on without a partner team. The Shore Conference Championship committee was deciding Central's fate. The tournament director for the meet could have easily told Central it was disqualified for not getting to HyWay 35 Lanes on time, but how do you blame the team for showing up late when it left its school on time and found itself part of a traffic accident it didn't have a part of?
Midway through the first game of the three-game set for all teams, the Golden Eagles arrived at HyWay 35 Lanes, practically sorry for being involved in an accident they didn't start. Leperi immediately had her girls set up and roll once they established where they could warm up.
By the time Leperi arrived, the committee had established that the Golden Eagles would hook up with the team they would roll against in the second game, but by the time the third and final game would finish, the Golden Eagles would roll their third game by themselves.
And if Central Regional was in striking distance of a title, guess where all the noise would be coming from at that particular moment?
Underclassman-dominated thanks to Toni Glowgower, Michelle Weinert and Stephanie Acker, the Golden Eagles were about to become a storyline ... even if it was just by themselves.
The meet was back to normal for the second game. Even without proper warmup, Central Regional destroyed the team it went against first. Then in the third game -- Central Regional's second -- the intensity rose. The lane assignments had both Brick Memorial AND Central Regional going against one another.
If ever you wanted to see two polar opposites team-wise, it was these two squads. While Central Regional had some outspoken free spirits who liked to have fun, Brick Memorial was a focused team whose fun was dictated by how it did on the alleys. Though there was respect between the teams, the two together were literally mixing oil and water. You could see it in their sign language. You could hear it in some of the comments quietly made.
Not surprisingly, both teams were on top of their games. Central Regional rolled an 834 in the first game and followed it up with an 858. Not bad, thus far.
But Brick Memorial stood up to the challenge and then some. Strikes were being made. Open frames were practically non-existence. When the game was over, the Mustangs had rolled a day-best 907 series -- an average of 181 per player. Turns out the star of that third game was Jobes, Gioia's substitute, who rolled a 214.
Memorial was well ahead in first place at 2,545, but now the Mustangs had to wait because Central Regional was capable of beating that score. The Golden Eagles had beaten the field six days earlier in the South Jersey championship and now they had a number that seemed easy enough to topple to snag this championship, too.
The Golden Eagles needed an 854 -- an average of almost 170 per bowler -- to win it. But now the Golden Eagles were going to have to do it in a far-away alley since bowling was back to normal for the regular customers. So stuck on lanes 3 and 4, Central Regional's quintet of bowlers got to decide the championship's fate by its lonesome. Anyone who understands competitive bowling knows that bowlers feed off not just one another, but their competition. And without competition, this was going to be just as hard.
I can still hear some Brick Memorial people quietly complaining that this would not be fair if Central took this title because it showed up late and had to go by the rules differently than everyone else there. Actually, if Central would come back and win this championship, it should have been praised for doing so. No competition, no one to drive the Golden Eagles and yet if they still logged an 854 or better, they'd win.
That would have been impressive.
The Golden Eagles got off to a fast start and looked on target to match that number ... 854. Each strike was followed by a loud cheer. And Memorial girls knew this wasn't good, Kampf saying, "I can't watch. I don't want to hear them cheering."
But by the middle of the final game, the Golden Eagle gals started to crack, doing the one thing they couldn't do to be successful ... leave open frames. No strikes, no spares. Suddnely 854 felt like 8,854 to them.
Still, they steadied the ship by the eighth frame. Going into the final frame, they had a chance to take the title that Mustang bowlers had their fingerprints on practically. Right off the bat, though, Glogower and Weinert rolled opens to start the 10th. Still, they had a chance with anchor Acker. But she needed a strike to get things off to a fast start.
She nailed nine pins. Memorial had its title.
Central would finish with 2,532 pins for the day, rolling an 840 in the final game, coming up 13 pins short.
And as Acker's ball hit all but that one pin, Mustangs bowlers finally broke out in the loud joyous cheer they had waited 45 minutes to do. They had the title in their grasp. Kobilnyk, Memorial's coach for over a decade, was relieved the day was over.
Central bowlers were disappointed afterward. With everything that happened that afternoon, from the accident that kept them from getting to their destination to the last frame of the day, the Golden Eagle girls nearly had a championship.
A different level of patience for them.
On this day, though, Brick Memorial exhibited that patience ... and was richly rewarded for it.