Reporting from Prairie Village, Kan.
Shawnee Mission East seniors Brena Levy and Sydney Stancer started off their bowling career as freshman a bit clumsily.
Levy bowled her first two weeks on the team with the wrong fingers – instead of her ring and middle finger in the two holes, she used her index and middle finger. Stancer, meanwhile, miscounted which arrow she was supposed to aim for, of the seven that span the lane.
“I was like, ‘It’s not getting a strike, I don’t know what you want me to do,’” Stancer said.
Four years later, they walk together during senior night as the only girls who have been on the team all four seasons. Throughout these four years, school, extra-curriculars and jobs may have overwhelmed their friendship had bowling not been in place to secure it.
Because neither had bowled before their freshman year, the two friends practiced together before tryouts. They’d become close that fall, so their visits to Mission Bowl was one of the first parts of their friendship.
“‘I [didn’t] know if we [were] that good,” Stancer said. “I thought, ‘What if we get cut?’”
They were ecstatic when they made the team, JV for Stancer and varsity for Levy. A picture of the two of them shows them proudly holding the blue, black and white plaid jerseys they had worked for, beaming and surprised they’d made the cut – even though every other girl had too.
They were practically inseparable until their sophomore year bowling season ended. That’s when intense sophomore and junior year high school schedules overcame the time they spent together.
“After bowling season sophomore year, I got a job, and it was forensics season, so I was crazy busy,” Levy said. “And then junior year picked up, and I started IB, so we never saw each other at school.”
Stancer, meanwhile, was involved in her youth group, AP classes and a job of her own at Johnny’s Tavern.
“Junior year was the time we found our own things, so we weren’t as close and we didn’t hang out as much as we used to,” Stancer said. “But then with bowling, we had something to do together.”
Bowling was, and still is, mandated friendship time for the two. After school, Stancer goes over to Levy’s house, where they then head off on the 20-minute drive to AMF College Lanes. Once they get there, they sit down on the same couch in the same lane, tie up their bowling shoes — white for Levy, black for Stancer — and take out their balls — red for Levy, green for Stancer. Then, they bowl.
Assistant bowling coach Scott Shaban, who began coaching Levy and Stancer’s junior years, saw the girls carpool to each practice together and watched bowling easily strengthen their friendship. The pure time commitment that the bowling team requires, with daily practices, bi-weekly meets and Saturday practices, allows friends to be there for each other as much as possible.
“You’re there for [your friend’s] 50-point pin-game; you’re there for [your friend’s] 250-point pin game,” Shaban said. “You’re there for all the successes and the failures. Everything that you’re happy about, they’re there with you. Everything that you’re sad about, they’re there with you.
The bowling coaching staff changed Levy and Stancer’s junior year, and because of this, the two of them have different bowling backgrounds than the sophomore and freshmen girls on the team. Their approach is different. They also tend to be less competitive than their younger counterparts. However, both work to stay on varsity and critique each others’ bowling technique.
The two of them have opposite problems when it comes to how they bowl. Levy sometimes throws the ball too early. She drops it before the line of the lane starts, and because of this, doesn’t get to follow through. Stancer, instead, holds onto the ball for too long.
“It gets stuck in her hand,” Levy said. “[Then] she, like, chucks it, and it makes a loud banging noise.”
The two have several rituals that they uphold while bowling. Before each frame, they put their balls down and put their hands in front of an air vent at the alley they go to. It gets the oils off their hands, according to Levy. They are also dedicated bus-seat-partners, loud-music-players and strike-dancers. When Stancer got her first strike at practice, Levy cheered louder than she had all day.
Because the two of them never see each other at school, the bowling alley provides a place for the two to recap their days – whether it’s groans, gossip or good news.
“A [typical] day usually goes like this,” Levy said.
She laid her head on Stancer’s shoulder. Sitting on the red leather bowling booth, she rolled her eyes and opened her mouth.
“I say, ‘IB is so hard,’” Levy said. “Then [Sydney] says, ‘Well it was your choice.’”
Stancer nodded and laughed in agreement at Levy’s slight exaggeration.
Though both Stancer’s and Levy’s bowling abilities have increased — Stancer now consistently hits her mark, Levy bowls with the correct three fingers and both are on varsity — they are still those two friends who decided to join bowling with no prior experience. That’s how they know themselves — spontaneous, understanding of each other, supportive — and that’s what bowling has allowed them to be.