Northeast bowling rolls its way to a championship

(left) Tyler Tran, 16, Ray­mond Wu, 15, Ma­lik Brown, 18, Coach K. Bar­rett, Chris­ti­an­Trin­id­ad, 16, Calv­in Trin­id­ad, 17, and Joseph Dorety, 19. hold the North­east High School Bowl­ing Tour­na­ment Trophy, Thursday, March 22, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


Ma­lik Brown will gradu­ate from North­east High School in a few shorts months hav­ing been a part of foot­ball and lacrosse Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship teams. Still, when pressed, Brown says that one of his fa­vor­ite ac­com­plish­ments in his time at North­east was be­ing a part of back-to-back Vik­ings bowl­ing cham­pi­ons.

Yes, that’s right…bowl­ing.

“A lot of people ask me what else I do be­sides play foot­ball and lacrosse, and I tell them I’m also on the bowl­ing team. They usu­ally say something like, ‘Bowl­ing? Oh­h­hh, that’s so cute!’” Brown said with a laugh. “But I tell them we’re ac­tu­ally pretty good. It’s le­git­im­ate com­pet­i­tion, and that’s one of the things that sur­prised me most about it.”

While it’s a sport that may fail to grab head­lines over more con­ven­tion­al, pop­u­lar sports such as foot­ball and bas­ket­ball, the North­east bowl­ing pro­gram has been one of the school’s most suc­cess­ful since its in­cep­tion in­to the Pub­lic League in 2005.

The school won its first cham­pi­on­ship in the pro­gram’s first year, and has fol­lowed suit in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. And while Brown says that win­ning a high school foot­ball cham­pi­on­ship in the city of Phil­adelphia is a pretty spe­cial achieve­ment, he may take the most pride in what he has ac­com­plished on the lanes in his two sea­sons of bowl­ing at North­east.

“I think the most pride and hon­or comes from us do­ing well and be­ing able to bring some re­cog­ni­tion to the bowl­ing pro­gram here,” he said. “For me, it’s a huge priv­ilege to be a part of, be­cause I can come back here in 15 years when I’m a man and say, ‘Hey, I did that. I was really a part of something spe­cial.’”

Though the bowl­ing team at North­east has had plenty of suc­cess in the years lead­ing up to this one, the 2011-12 team may be one of the bet­ter stor­ies be­cause of the unique cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the team.

For starters, it was the first all-boys team in school his­tory (all teams be­fore this year were co-ed). In ad­di­tion to that, none of the eight bowl­ers had ever met each oth­er be­fore this sea­son. If that wasn’t enough, the team mem­bers came from all dif­fer­ent back­grounds from eth­ni­cit­ies, as the Vik­ings fea­tured a Caucasi­an, an Afric­an-Amer­ic­an and play­ers from Korean, Vi­et­namese and His­pan­ic des­cent. With such vast cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences amongst them, it was no small feat for the play­ers to come to­geth­er, but they did so al­most in­stant­an­eously.

“It was the first time I had seen any of these guys in school,” said seni­or cap­tain Joseph Dorety, who re­turned to bowl for the Vik­ings for his fi­nal year of high school after a one-year hi­atus. “We do all come from very dif­fer­ent back­grounds, so that first week was a little rough get­ting ac­quain­ted. But after that, we be­came real close friends and joked around to the point where now we’ve kind of be­come like broth­ers.”

Win­ning will cer­tainly do that, and most of the suc­cess is owed to head coach Kar­en Bar­rett, who has been the school’s bowl­ing coach since its ar­rival in­to the Pub­lic League in 2005. Bar­rett, who also coaches North­east’s ju­ni­or varsity vol­ley­ball team and its highly suc­cess­ful bad­min­ton squad, is re­lent­less in bring­ing re­cog­ni­tion to a pro­gram that, des­pite all of its ac­col­ades, has struggled in get­ting at­ten­tion with­in the school walls.

Both Dorety and Brown cred­ited Bar­rett for get­ting the group of strangers to real­ize their po­ten­tial as bowl­ers and as friends, with Brown even re­fer­ring to her as the “moth­er” of the team in­stead of its coach. And while she ap­pre­ci­ates the sup­port that comes from her team, Bar­rett was quick to de­flect the fo­cus away from her­self.

“Even though most of these guys were new, I think they saw my en­ergy and love for the sport, and that I had a genu­ine in­terest in help­ing them be suc­cess­ful,” she said. “I was blessed from the good Lord to be giv­en such a unique group of young men. It was a tad bit tough­er for me coach­ing an all-boys team, but they stepped up and answered the chal­lenge I is­sued to them when the sea­son began.”

Bar­rett said she didn’t have one or two par­tic­u­lar bowl­ers that car­ried the team to its perch of Pub­lic League cham­pi­ons; rather, she set lofty goals in the be­gin­ning of the sea­son for them to shoot for scores between 150-160, and once they real­ized they were cap­able of that, to aim for even high­er scores. As a res­ult, every mem­ber of the team was rock sol­id and there were no weak links, which is im­port­ant when real­iz­ing a three-way first-place tie at the end of the sea­son was broken due to the fact that the Vik­ings had the highest total pin count over every oth­er varsity boys team in the league.

The ac­com­plish­ments on the lanes were spe­cial, but what made this North­east team really stand out above the oth­ers Bar­rett has coached was how quickly they went from strangers to close friends. She cred­ited the drives in her own car from North­east to prac­tices at Erie Lanes in Ju­ni­ata Park as in­valu­able bond­ing time.

“I put bowl­ing off to the side, and when we’d be in the car I’d talk to them about their lives and their in­terests,” she said. “I’d ask them how they were do­ing in school, what their hob­bies were, about their girl­friends and so forth. Once one of them star­ted talk­ing, the oth­ers real­ized they had lots in com­mon with each oth­er, and everything fell in­to place from there.”

After de­feat­ing Frank­ford High School back on Feb. 22 to se­cure the league cham­pi­on­ship, Dorety, Tyler Tran and Jac­ob Virella were se­lec­ted to par­ti­cip­ate in the state tour­na­ment in Lan­caster, Pa. Out of al­most 200 bowl­ers across the state, these were three of five total in the en­tire Phil­adelphia area that got a chance to bowl on the biggest stage at the high school level.

When it comes to high school ath­let­ics, it’s usu­ally pretty easy to seek out good, heart­warm­ing stor­ies, but the story of the 2011-12 North­east bowl­ing team may be one of the most uniquely up­lift­ing of them all.

“It’s really dif­fer­ent, and to even think that bowl­ing can be a ser­i­ous com­pet­it­ive sport is kind of funny,” Dorety said. “But it is just that…ser­i­ous and com­pet­it­ive. If you come see a match, you’ll see the ten­sions are huge, just as they are for a foot­ball or bas­ket­ball game. And con­sid­er­ing we’ve won five out of the last sev­en cham­pi­on­ships, I guess we’re do­ing something right, even if a lot of people don’t know about it.”

People will know about it now, in large part due to the tire­less ef­fort Bar­rett puts in­to pro­mot­ing her seem­ingly an­onym­ous team. Her en­ergy and pas­sion for a sport most people view as a hobby is palp­able, and she feels thrilled to have been a part of it.

“I didn’t know what to ex­pect with my first all-boys team,” she said. “What was most re­ward­ing and ex­cit­ing was the way they listened to that I was teach­ing them. My en­thu­si­asm seemed to rub off on them, and we were able to work hard and have fun. They saw that love and en­ergy in my eyes that I had for them and the sport, but they also saw the ser­i­ous­ness in what I needed and wanted them to do.

“Fi­nally, at one point, I just said ‘Let’s just do this thing,’” she con­cluded. “And we did just that.” ••


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