Michelle Carcagente Crews has spent much of her life hanging around in alleys. She bowled her first game at age 3, was named a collegiate All-American at the University of Central Florida, and earned a spot on Junior Team USA. This summer, Crews was selected to lead UAB’s latest athletics endeavor as the first coach of the university’s women’s bowling team, which will begin practice in October.
Speaking by phone from a tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she was scouting potential recruits for the fledgling Blazer program, Crews talked with UAB Magazine about introducing her new hometown to the sport of strikes, spares, and the occasional sour apple.
UAB Magazine: You were born in Long Island, New York, and grew up in Florida. Did you have any connection to Birmingham or to UAB prior to accepting the job of bowling coach?
Michelle Crews: I actually had never been in Alabama at all, so I wasn’t very familiar with the university or the city before this job became available. I’ve always known I wanted to work in the bowling industry in some way, but I also wanted to be in a place where I would be comfortable living and raising a family. As my husband, Jimmy, and I began to explore the city and learn more about the university, we realized that both Birmingham and UAB have all the things we were looking for.
I really like the size of the school and the fact that it has high academic standards. It’s a place that I think will be very attractive to recruits—especially someone with interest in the medical field.
Also, my husband works for a medical supply company and is on the amateur staff of one of the bowling companies, so Birmingham is an ideal location for us.
UAB Magazine: Although most people have bowled recreationally or even in leagues, many in this area may not be familiar with college bowling. What are some basic things UAB fans will need to know to follow the team?
MC: Practice begins in October, and the NCAA championships are in April, so even though bowling is considered a winter sport, our season lasts for most of the school year.
The number of people on the team usually ranges from about seven to as many as 15. It’s just up to the coach and what the school’s budget allows. I feel like eight is an ideal number. Only five can compete at a time in a match, but you can travel with up to eight, so having eight people on the team will mean that everyone gets the experience of traveling and being at the tournaments. It always helps to have a backup or two in the wings in case of injury or other circumstances. I think that helps a lot as young players become upperclassmen to have really been a part of the team and to build a family-type atmosphere.
There will be some matches against individual teams, but most of the events we participate in will be multiteam tournaments. A team has to participate in eight events to be eligible for the NCAA championships, so we’ll definitely have eight events scheduled, and I hope to eventually get up to 12 or more.
UAB Magazine: When you’re scouting teenage bowlers, what do you look for, other than high bowling scores?
MC: Besides scores, I look at a bowler’s potential, and in truth, the scores are not as important in that as you would think. Most of the high school bowlers we look at have not had much experience with different lane conditions, oil patterns, and different balls to use. You really need that experience to consistently post high scores. So I look for bowlers who show potential but also show that they are coachable and want to learn and develop their skills. You want someone who will be excited about what UAB has to offer them, someone who can be a leader and a valuable member of the team.
UAB Magazine: How do you train as a college bowler? Are all the practices on the lanes or are there other aspects to training?
MC: Our practices will be similar to what my practices were like when I bowled for Central Florida, which means bowling practice five to six days per week. That includes two team practices, two individual practices, and one or two sessions just on your own. In addition to that, we’ll have at least two days a week in the gym. Most people don’t realize how important cardiovascular fitness is to a bowler, but you have to be in shape to compete in these tournaments. A college bowler will be on her feet six to eight hours a day, throwing a 14- or 15-pound ball down the lane a few hundred times per tournament. So weight training and cardio are really important if you want to perform at a high level.
UAB Magazine: College bowling is a growing sport, but there aren’t as many opportunities for coaches as other traditional college sports. With that in mind, did you consider other career paths when you were in college?
MC: I grew up in a family that was very involved in bowling, so I always knew I wanted to be in the industry in some way. During college, I was an assistant manager and events coordinator at a bowling center, and I really enjoyed working with the public and developing programs for our community. But as I watched the sport continue to grow in the college ranks, I knew that coaching would be the best way for me to be able to do all the things I wanted to do. The chance to help young people and to build a team from the ground up is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
Facts and figures for the new Blazer bowling fan
• Bowling is one of the oldest pastimes known to man, with evidence of bowling balls and pins having been uncovered from Egyptian tombs dating from as far back as 3200 B.C.
• A modern bowling lane is 39 inches wide and 60 feet long.
• Bowling became an officially sanctioned NCAA sport in 2004, but only four teams have won the national championship: Nebraska (2004, 2005, and 2009), Farleigh Dickinson (2006 and 2010), Vanderbilt (2007), and Maryland-Eastern Shore (2008 and 2011). Learn more about NCAA women's bowling here.
Standard bowling pins are three pounds, six ounces and are made by gluing blocks of rock maple wood together, then turning them on a lathe to carve them into the appropriate shape. Once finished, they are coated with plastic, painted, and given a glossy finish.
Each pin position is numbered 1 to 10. “Splits” occur when pins are left standing after a bowler’s first roll and can be identified either by the numbers of the pins or by common nicknames. For example, a 5-10 split is known as a “Woolworth,” named after an old chain of five-and-dime stores.
Other common splits are the “sour apple” (5-7-10) and the “Greek church” (4-6-7-8-10).
“I’ve been bowling my whole life, but every now and then I’ll hear one that I’ve never come across before,” says Crews. “Most of them make sense, but sometimes you just have to scratch your head. You know there’s a story there somewhere.”
—Written by Grant Martin