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.” ••EndFragment