Jackson bowling teams fighting through challenges

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

JACKSON TWP. The challenges have been many and varied for Jackson bowling so far this fall and winter.

The Polar Bears, with a new head coach and quite a few new faces on both the boys and girls teams, have had an uphill battle competing in the Federal League and beyond.

First-year head coach Tim Raddish inherited a program that had gone through multiple head coaching changes in the past few years, leaving him with the task of trying to spark new interest in the sport for Jackson.

"I knew it was going to be challenging going into a COVID-affected year, but being a first-year bowling coach, I didn't know what to expect even in a normal year," Raddish said. "I'm not used to coaching without all of it (COVID issues)."

After a down season last year, the Polar Bears entered this season seeking to take the first steps of rebuilding and rebounding. Without a large roster, there wasn't a ton of depth and facing the sort of difficult schedule that comes with the Federal League exacerbated those issues.

What was – and remains – an unknown is how the pandemic will affect the year in terms of scheduling, availability of individual competitors and how matches will look.

"The girls girls team has a lot of rebuilding to do for sure, and the boys are making progress as well," Raddish said. "A few weeks into season, they're improving and doing well. There have been a couple of matches canceled here and there and all of a sudden, when Stark County went to purple (for its COVID-19 risk and infection alert status), we had a couple of bowlers elect to step away."

Those decisions, while done with the health and safety of the athletes in mind, did take away key competitors for both teams. Raddish noted that having their children on long bus trips and around more people at matches were reasons for the decisions parents made for bowlers to step away.

While those situations have affected the team in a more direct fashion, the first-year head coach believes that in the long term, stability and growth are important issues.

"I really want to bring some stability and have more awareness brought to the program within the district," Raddish said. "I would like to at least have bowling as a club sport at middle school level."

Developing more young bowlers would provide a boost in the years ahead, but in the here and now, competitors such as junior Averi Hawkins are leading the way for the Polar Bears. Hawkins won the individual division at a recent tournament in Canton and Raddish described her as having "a lot of potential" and with the chance to have an even better year as a senior next season.

Her 615 three-game series in the Muskingum Tournament at Hall of Fame Lanes was an indicator of that potential and the kind of effort Raddish hopes to see more of going forward.

The boys, despite losing one of their leading scorers, earned their first win of the season last week and have gotten solid scoring from senior Curtis Ogden, who tallied games of 221 and 263 in the win for a personal-best 484 series to pace his team to a much-needed victory over GlenOak. Ogden also notched a 568 three-game series in the Muskingum Tournament.

On a roster that includes 11 boys and nine girls, the importance of each athlete is magnified. Having everyone competing at their highest level is a lot to ask, but it's the sort of effort Jackson will need the rest of the way as it tries to balance growth with being competitive on a match-by-match basis.

Just as the road to where the program now stands was more than one match or one season, the road back to the success it enjoyed in the early part of the last decade will take time. Raddish and the Polar Bears are taking on that road one pin and one frame at a time.