Tony Orr gets a few practice games in while bowling at Brandon Crossroads Bowling. The Brooks-DeBartolo graduate has signed a scholarship to bowl at Midland University. JASON BEHNKEN / STAFF
BY NICK WILLIAMS Tribune staff
Published: July 9, 2013
Updated: July 10, 2013 at 06:06 AM
BRANDON - Last summer, Tony Orr had offers from nearly a dozen colleges and universities across the country, all seeking his talents for their athletic programs.
Among those schools were Florida State and Florida.
But you won't find Orr's scouting profile on any recruiting website or message board. For high school bowlers, it hasn't reached that point.
This past April, Orr, a recent graduate of Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, signed a national letter-of-intent to bowl for Midland University, an NAIA school in Nebraska and one of the top programs in the nation. This fall, he will be among the 3,700 student-athletes on roughly 220 college and university campuses in the U.S. competing for an intercollegiate bowling team, of which 100 or so offer bowling scholarships.
Orr's scholarship is worth nearly 66 percent of an $18,000-per-year tuition.
Men's and women's bowling is an emerging sport at the NAIA level, while women's bowling is a sanctioned sport of the NCAA. Gary Brown, the United States Bowling Congress Director of Collegiate and Youth Tournament Bowling, said the sport benefits colleges economically.
"The primary reason smaller schools have it is because it helps drive enrollment," he said. "You get kids from across the country and it's an untapped market for some of these schools to bring in student athletes and bring in a string of revenue from tuition."
The sport also is relatively inexpensive to operate compared to other college sports.
"If (a college) has an enrollment of 400 and you have 40 kids on bowling teams, that's one-tenth of their student population," Brown said. "You make a little bit of profit."
At the high-school level, 2,682 total students participated in bowling in Florida this past school year, more than double the number 20 years ago. Meanwhile, almost 53,000 participated nationwide during the 2011-12 school year, a significant increase from 29,888 who participated a decade earlier.
Orr was the highest qualifying individual male bowler from the Tampa Bay area at the state high school tournament this past November and averaged 200 for the season. He has two sanctioned 300 games and two 800 series in his prep career and helped start the bowling program at Brooks-DeBartolo.
Dedicating his time to an unpopular sport raised a few eyebrows among Orr's friends.
"They make jokes," he said. "They say it's not a sport."
Orr thinks he will become a professional. An avid bowler since the age of 6, Orr knew he wanted to pursue bowling after he bowled his first 300 at 15. He chose Midland to better prepare for a career in the Professional Bowlers Association, or maybe a shot at the Pan American Games.
"I'll probably get some good practice for the next level," he said. "I'll work on some new patterns."