Monday, February 18, 2008

Hoosier Daddy

This past weekend was the 39th annual Hoosier Classic bowling tournament in Indianapolis and the Oberlin College team was in attendance. Surprisingly, the level of drama was significantly lower than the high-water mark established in years past. I'll try to make this post interesting.

We only sent five bowlers this time around which made logistics and budgeting significantly easier. Since there were only 6 people traveling we decided to rent a minivan from the College. Advantage 1 of being the coach: I get to be a control freak when it comes to transportation. I didn't think I would like driving a minivan but I really liked our car -- a Toyota Sienna. The part I liked was that the back row of seats can fold into the floor (as they were when I picked up the van), but when they were pulled out there was a sunken in storage area that was perfect for bowling equipment. It was also a very comfortable ride and really user friendly.

The drive down was not that bad. James volunteered to navigate and took his role almost too seriously (which is actually pretty helpful when you need assistance opening a Nalgene or regulating the temperature). Brad brought a DVD player for himself, so he was pacified and out of my hair. Everyone else was quiet for the most part -- not that I demanded that but I think I was able to make better time since I wasn't overly chatty. Of course, Tom was nice enough to let me include travel time on my timecard, so I guess that worked against me in a sense.

We got to the hotel at about quarter to eleven. I was pleased with the accommodations. The first time we went to the Hoosier, we stayed in these ridiculous suites that, while very comfortable, must have cost a fortune. The second time around, we went the cheap route and stayed at the Knight's Inn (one step above paying-by-the-hour lodging). While that one was cheap, there was significant travel involved in that location. If you look at a map of Indianapolis, I-465 circumnavigates the city. I-70, the road we come in on, is at 3 o'clock, the bowling center is at 12, and the Knight's Inn is at 6. The Days Inn we stayed at was at 1 o'clock, so it was quite convenient and not all that expensive. Considering how late we made our reservations I'm surprised they still had space for us. As I checked in, there was a complicated series of Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine room assignments. For some reason, Brad wanted to room with Avi and would not budge from that position. James and Max didn't seem all that invested in where they slept though Ra'Mar seemed to have a strong preference as he kept pushing more RPS matches. Once I got the keys, I took one set for my room and gave Ra'Mar the other set. This seemed to bring about a much quicker resolution than the "best 14 out of 27" situation that was developing.

The rooms were quite nice, especially considering the price. There was a mini-kitchenette (kitchenetteette?) with a sink, but there was also a sink and counter space in the bathroom. I know it's not that big a deal, but I so prefer to do all of my morning ablutions in private, not just the nudey ones. The only downside that we, well Max, found was that the beds didn't have bottom sheets -- only the top sheets just sort of laying on top of the mattress. Kind of weird, but certainly not the weirdest thing I've encountered in bowling team travels. After everyone got settled, we had a mini-powwow to go over what would be happening in the tournament, looking over printouts of the oil patterns and answering any lingering questions.

The alarm went off at 6 the next morning. I usually don't feel so good if I wake up after a reduced amount of sleep, but Saturday I felt more like I was exhibiting symptoms rather than general fatigue. We met down in the lobby for breakfast where I choked down half a bowl of raisin bran and thanked my lucky stars that I didn't have to bowl today. The team seemed to be in much better shape than me, so that was a promising sign. We headed over to the center and promptly checked in. One of the things I love about this tournament, besides its Top Notch status, is how well organized the event is. I have never felt confused about what was going on at any point and even if I did I knew I would get a quick and clear answer from the tournament staff. As I waited in the arcade for the coaches meeting, a person a few feet away looked at the lane assignment list and said "Oh, Oberlin is here." It's an awkward situation because I could say something, but the way he said it could have been followed with "It'll be nice to see them" or "What the hell?" I'll just assume that it would be the first one and smile quietly. We have arrived.

Another plus of this particular tournament: Since we had only one team going, they would get my undivided attention. With other tournaments, I would often find myself running back and forth checking in on teams and trying to address the most pressing issues but in ways that never really seemed to instill confidence in the bowler. In this situation, I could provide significantly better advice since I could watch every shot made by our team and by the other team on the pair.

Unfortunately, there were difficulties. First off, the patterns were extremely challenging. This wasn't a surprise, but I think the level of difficulty was probably at 9 when we were anticipating maybe 7 and a half. In these situations, breakpoint theory is the way to go. Basically, the breakpoint is the spot on the lane where the ball will break out of its skid and start to hook. If you find the optimal breakpoint, your ball should go into the pocket. If you don't get a strike, you have a strong chance of leaving a makable spare. Although it may sound easy in that explanation, it is incredibly challenging to execute effectively. Although a couple of the bowlers have been lightly exposed to breakpoint theory through the Bowling II class, this was a crash course in the concept for all five members of the team. I will say that I am impressed with how well they rose to the challenge in terms of executing shots and making adjustments to help play to the proper breakpoint.

Despite this, the scores for our team were quite low. The two problems that kept coming up was a lack of momentum and what I consider to be poor spare shooting. The momentum aspect really kind of baffled me. For some reason the energy was lacking for most of the day, though it didn't seem to be caused by fatigue or bad chemistry. There were sparks here and there, but we just couldn't get the fire started. Though maybe the spare shooting is to blame. Most bowling matches are won when all spares are picked up and all splits are maximized. There were far too many spares left uncovered during the first day and I think our overall score was a few hundred pins lower than it should have been. That's not to say there was no effort -- in fact there were many splits converted when all we ask in that situation is that the bowler tries to get as many pins as reasonably possible. Of course, when you as the coach realize that the spare shooting is one of the main problems, telling a bowler to pick up their spares is 1) ineffective and 2) just adding to the disappointment/frustrated feeling that the bowler is already experiencing. You just have to add it to the "Things to work on" list and move on.

At the end of Saturday we were all feeling pretty tired. However, the head of the coaches' association wanted to have a meeting after the last game and I had to stay for that. It was actually a pretty interesting meeting, though it devolved into people talking about all of the second- and third-order decisions which of course made the meeting that much longer. So long, in fact, that Avi called me during the meeting to make sure that I didn't leave the bowling center without the team. I clocked in a 7am on Saturday, clocked out at 7pm. And then we had to figure out dinner. It didn't help that everyone was extremely tired, I was feeling really gross and the only people who had real opinions on the subject were throwing out suggestions that made me feel even worse than I already did. We eventually decided on Fazoli's. When we went inside, the fluorescent-lit menus and the red trays caused a majority of us to say "can we go somewhere else?" I was experiencing Killer Fatigue at this point which is never a happy place and causes you to say things like "I just want to eat somewhere where I don't have to bus my own table." Although others agreed with me, there's really no way to say that without sounding petulant. Avi, James, Max and I ended up at this sushi restaurant while Brad and Ra'Mar went to Steak N Shake (I'll spare you the really obnoxious things I said about that). It's a shame I wasn't feeling better because it sounds like everyone had some tasty dishes. I just got soup which was good but it would have been nicer to have something more extravagant.

When we got back to the hotel, we ended up splitting into our rooms -- Max, James and me in one; Ra'Mar, Brad and Avi in the other. I don't know how they passed the time in the other room, but we spent the night talking about some heavy duty stuff. Max and I accidentally grilled James on libertarian fiscal policy, Granted, I'm in favor of the idealized impractical economic theory at the other end of the spectrum (socialism) but I'm not as passionate about it. I've accepted that my preferred theory would never work and I've moved on and perhaps someday James will do the same. Based on the conversation I've pretty much concluded that a libertarian economic system would essentially be a form of neo-feudalism which would totally suck because I would so end up being a serf. I DON'T WANT TO TOIL IN THE MUD! Eventually the topic got around to gay rights and how Dale v. BSA is the most awesome Supreme Court case ever. That's right -- we know how to party in Indianapolis on a Saturday night.

I woke up on Sunday feeling worse. First, I have a tendency to wake up in anticipation of alarm clocks because I hate being startled by loud noises. I think I went to sleep a little after 12:30 and it felt like 5:45. I look over at the clock: 2:30. Ugh. All in all, not a good night's sleep. The routine was essentially a repeat of Saturday, only instead of raisin bran I barely choked down a third of a piece of toast and we had to check out of the hotel. Apparently I missed Tony Reyes checking in. The PBA World Championship is this week and will be bowling in the same center that our tournament was at.

We eventually made our way to the center for the last three games of the tournament. My Killer Fatigue had not completely worn off yet and people were tap dancing on my nerves. The first game seemed to be a continuation of the problems from the day before. I soon realized that part of the problem involved how we practice back at Oberlin. Before tournaments, we play a game called +1/-1. On the first ball of a frame, if you get the ball in play (hitting the ballside of the head pin) you get +1. If you are out of play you get -1. If you strike you also get +1, so an in play strike is +2, an out of play strike is 0. If you leave pins, you get +1 if you make the spare or -1 if you miss it (if it is a split and you maximize, you get 0). Here is the problem: If you get an out of play strike, you get 0 but it is a wash since you have the strike helping out your score. In the current structure, If you get an in play hit that leaves a corner pin, you have +1. If you miss your spare (a bowler really shouldn't be missing a corner pin spare) that is -1, making a total of 0. However, this is not a wash since you do not get a score boost in terms of regular scoring. If anything missing a spare (that isn't a split) should be -2. So for the second game, I started keeping track of the team's +1/-2 scores and the results were eye-opening. As I explained to the individuals on the team as they saw what I was doing I was hoping to raise the standard that bowlers should be holding themselves to. I heard at least twice that "it sucks to lose 3 points in a single frame." This was not stated as a gripe but more as a realization. I think I made a breakthrough.

Game 9 started against UNLV and Oberlin was still in next-to-last place (thanks Notre Dame!). The UNLV team seemed extremely frustrated and were having slide issues that no one on the Oberlin team seemed to experience. Both teams had a somewhat rough start, though Oberlin was slightly ahead. As I stood towards the back of the settee area, I felt someone tap my shoulder. It was Chris Loschetter, the PBA bowler who practices in our center. You know, there's something truly magnificent when the 14th best bowler in the world (according to the current rankings) is not only hanging out with one of the least impressive teams at a tournament, but that he was actually looking for us so he could say hi. Even better, he could totally commiserate with the team, telling us why he dislikes sport shots and how he doesn't really like team bowling. He was only on our pair for about ten minutes, but that was enough to get our fire going. Max bowled the high game for Oberlin with a 196 and we ended up beating UNLV (who were ranked 29 prior to that match). So awesome.

The drive back was a bit of a challenge, given my fatigued state, but we made it back safe and in good time. Although there was a great deal of frustration in terms of the conditions and Oberlin's performance, I think we did a good job and I'm optimistic that we have figured out areas that we need to work on. And although it was a challenging weekend, I think I did a good job.

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