The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 11, 2013

Scholarship program helps road to college for youth bowlers

By Ryan Costello, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Kelsy Peck probably isn’t a good enough bowler to go pro, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make money doing it.

“I’m pretty good,” said Peck, who started as an elementary school bumper bowler and now can break 200, topping out at 234. “I’m not like top in the state, or anything close to it … I’m much better than when I started.”

In more ways than one, it turns out.

Peck, 16 and an incoming junior at Enid High School, starting bowling in the third grade, and not long after, joined Oakwood Bowl Grand Prix, the local chapter of a statewide scholarship program.

Eight years later, six of them with the program, Peck has bowled his way to $1,493 in scholarship earnings, a number he hopes will break $1,700 by the time he graduates and can access the money, which until then, is held in a trust by the Oklahoma Bowling Centers Association.

“It’s great,”  said Peck, who plans to study computer science at Oklahoma State University. “It’s that much that I don’t have to pay for school.”

For two decades, young bowlers in Enid have used the program to get a head start on college costs. Peck is the highest earner currently in the program, but not in its history — Grand Prix alum Casey Buller amassed more than $10,000 through the fund and tournament winnings.

How Buller and Peck did it was fairly simple: lots and lots of bowling.  

Bowlers, at least 24 months away from graduating, can sign up for the program. Once they’re in, they remain there until graduation, as long as they pay their $5 annual membership fee.

Members earn scholarship money mostly by bowling. Each youth league game is worth one point, every tournament game is worth five, as is participation in program fundraisers — Enid’s own chapter has 9-10 fundraising events a year.

At season’s end, every member’s points are tabulated, and a per-point value is determined based on how much money was raised that season, last season adding up to $1.40 per point.  

The more a bowler bowls, the more the money piles up, as long as dues are paid. Once they graduate, members have two years to put it toward a post-secondary education — a four-year college, junior college, or a trade school. Any unspent funds are returned to the program and dispersed among current members.

In its 20th year, the Grand Prix Scholarship Fund is off to a fast start.

Generally by mid-June — the Grand Prix season starts March 1 — the program will have raised in the ballpark of $500, said Sandy Tate, the fund’s administrator for 16 years. For the 2013-14 season, the Grand Prix further diversified an already resourceful fundraising strategy, adding a sale of old bowling balls-turned lawn ornaments, among others to a roster of fundraisers that already included a candle sale, silent auction and paid tournament bracket for adult bowlers. The approach so far has pulled in $2,000, the highest amount Tate can remember so early in the season.

She expects the tally at season’s end to be equally unprecedented.

“I really bet they raise $10,000 this year,” said Tate, who has recruited her son-in-law, Sean Mathis, to shoulder some of the responsibilities. “I’d bet anything.”

Not that last season’s $8,100-plus is a disappointing number — the program averages around $6,000, still the highest in the state, and 2012-13 was just the second season to break $8,000.

After factoring the Grand Prix bowlers’ tournament winnings, which go to a separate account that also is held in a trust until after graduation, the group piled up more than $11,000 toward future college or training-school costs.

The OBCA takes 20 percent to fund and organize tournaments, which most of the Enid program’s members compete in with many returning with even more money toward college. Those funds are held in a separate trust, but still one that opens after graduation.

So the program, bowling for college cash, is easy enough, but not for everyone.

“The youth program as a whole, high school bowling, all my youth leagues, bus program, I’m going to say we spend 60 percent of our time promoting youth stuff,” said Tate, who likened the busy bowling alley to a home away from home. “(Husband) Jim (Tate) and I, we go out and get sponsors for high school bowling, we go out and help get stuff for the silent auction table, I’m the one who does the brackets. But it’s a team effort. It’s not just Jim and me. We have Sean helping us, Robin (Luna) helps us, and the kids help us. It’s a lot of leg work, it really is, but we want to do it, so we enjoy doing it.”

Tate, as well as some volunteers, and the bowlers themselves, participate in fundraising efforts, the benefiting members are required to raise at least $20 each through candle sales.

But it’s worth it, Tate says.

Her own daughter, Kira Mathis, earned more than $2,000 through the fund, paying for almost all of her two years at Northern Oklahoma College Enid before continuing school in Oklahoma City. Mathis now is a certified massage therapist, and in her off-time, of course, helps with the Grand Prix.