I wrote the following short article for the Asian Bowling Digest. It discusses the question, "is bowling a sport or recreation?" I provide current and historical data to answer, yes and yes.
Is Bowling a Sport or Recreation, Joe Slowinski, Asian Bowling Digest
In 2003, 55 million Americans went bowling. Two years later, this was closer to 70 million. And, bowling is on the rise with an increase of approximately 9 percent since 1998. But, this is the crux of the question. Is bowling a sport or is it a recreation?
Varsity high school bowling continues to grow in the United States. Each year the The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) conducts a survey of organized varsity high school sports. Varsity sports are those in which students compete for their high school, grades 9 – 12, ages 14 – 18. According to this annual survey, bowling has 1768 schools with a varsity bowling team providing competitive opportunities for more than 20,000 boys and 18,000 girls. In fact, bowling continues to be one of the fastest growing varsity sport in the United States adding more programs to schools in three of the past five years.
Futher demonstrating the growth of bowling as a sport is the growth of bowling for women at the collegiate level. In April, eight teams that earned a spot in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will bowl for a national championship. College bowling in the United States has historically been strong yet most programs operate at the club level providing few or partial scholarships. With the addition of bowling at the NCAA level, 47 colleges and universities now provide women with complete athletic scholarships. In addition to the 47 programs sanctioned by the NCAA, 64 college teams are invited to compete in the Intercollegiate Bowling Championships. And, there is also a national championship sponsored by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) for colleges that offer two-year degrees. And, with the exception of NCAA competitions, bowling is nearly a year-round sport beginning in the Fall and running into Spring.
With this evidence it suggests that bowling is becoming more of a sport with growing competitive opportunities for high school and college athletes.
According to the Sporting Goods Association of America, league bowling represented 60 to 70 percent of lane play at bowling centers. Today, this percent is approximately 30 to 40 percent.
In 2000, the reported league linage was 3958 games per lane annually at centers in the United States. In the 1976-77 season, it was reported that the annually lineage per lane was 7373 at bowling centers in the United States. Over the same period of time, recreational bowling remain constant, declining less than 5 percent, at approximately 4000 games per lane per center. Specifically, during the 1999-2000 season, open play actually outpaced league lineage, 4077 to 3958. In the 1999-2000 season, league lineage and open play recreational bowling were equal. From a historical perspective, sanctioned league bowling represented 65 percent of lineage with open play representing 35 percent.