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LHS bowling team ready for its due

LACONIA — Many of their classmates and teachers, according to members of the Laconia High School bowling team, aren't aware that the school has a NHIAA-sanctioned team in the sport. When the team members inform their peers that the team exists, the revelation often produces disbelief if not bemusement. Now in its fourth year, the team is offering competition to its rivals, developing the skills of its athletes and is ready to command respect.
As a way to raise the team's profile, as well as to raise funds to offset expenses, the team hosted a competition last night against members of the LHS faculty. Each player collected sponsorships for his or her match, and the general public was welcomed to watch.
The bowling team was started by coach Sheila Labrie, who this year passed the reins to her former assistant coach Jack Batchelder. The team has grown from five students to ten and travels around the state to bowl as a team against the eleven other New Hampshire high schools that offer the sport. It took until last year for Laconia to earn its first match victory – there's usually at least a few schools at each competition – and has finished in second place a couple of times this season.
More importantly, said Batchelder, the team members, some of whom are new to the sport, are seeing regular improvements, thanks to twice-weekly practices at Funspot. Batchelder said, "In bowling, it isn't always about beating the other team, it's about improving your scores." In that regard, he said, "the kids can see encouragement."
Setting the high mark for the team has been Zina Labrie, who is rolling an average of 143, making her the 49th best high school bowler in the state. If she can maintain or improve that average, she'll qualify for a spot in the state championship match.
Like most of her team mates, Labrie doesn't play any other sports for the high school. Bowling is her sport, something she's pursued since her pre-school years. "I grew up with it," she said, adding that bowling offers a unique experience among other athletic offerings. "It's exercise, but in a fun, casual way."
At a recent practice, the team exhibited that "fun, casual" attitude, yet one that was tempered with focus on technique and a desire to improve. Players consoled one another when they failed to convert a spare, and high-fived for strikes.
As coach, Batchelder said his challenge is to protect that balance. "They're athletes, they put a lot of pressure on themselves," yet he wants the players to have fun and get hooked on a sport they can take with them long after they've graduated.
Samantha Batchelder, Jack's daughter, plans to do just that. In fact, she'd like to coach a bowling team in her adult life. First, though, she's got a nearer goal to accomplish. Samantha, a senior, is just behind Labrie on the team's average points list and hopes to finish the season as one of the top 64 bowlers in the state, high enough to earn a ticket to the state match. "That's one of my goals, I've said that from the beginning."
Whether she acheives that or not, she's been pleased to see what the young team has become. "I feel like we've grown a lot," she said. "It's a fun atmosphere, a fun team... We keep improving, getting better." She'd like the sport to get the same regard that other sports are given by the general student body. "They don't know, but they take it as a joke." But, she insisted, "It counts as any other sport."
The bowling team has proven to be an athletic outlet for some students who might not otherwise join a sports team. There are a few others, though, that were lured away from more conventional teams. Lily Chanthasak is one example. "I used to be a cheerleader for winter sports," she said, adding, "I'm also a drama kid." Some friends from drama club encouraged her to try bowling this year, something she had never tried before, and she's happy she did. She's quickly catching up to her experienced team mates, at a recent match bowling 51 pins above her prior average. "It's just a different atmosphere than other sports," she said. However, she hasn't completely shaken her cheerleading habits. "I still cheer people on a lot."
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