Make Joel Spangler laugh. You’ll like him when he’s laughing.
Overnight, the 5-foot-9, 203-pound Dixon junior transformed from a hulking lineman bent on smashing holes for running backs to a jovial zen master for the Dukes’ bowling team.
“Basically, it’s the last football game, then Monday I’m right into bowling practice,” Spangler said. “I have no break.”
He and classmate Lucas Bonnette were named captains for the 2013-14 season by their teammates. With senior Ryan Dixon – fresh off a golf sectional title – the only other returner with varsity experience, and four freshmen in the program having never so much as rolled a bowling ball before this season, the mission statement is simple:
“Take your time...” Bonnette said.
“Relax and have fun, you know what I mean?” Spangler added.
Six years ago, Bonnette – who took up bowling as a “little chitlin,” in his words – enlisted his good buddy Spangler to fill in his fourth spot for a Saturday morning junior league.
Spangler says he got “coached up over the years.”
Thus, he understands his role as not just a leader on the scorecard, but also in bringing a young team along. The top priority is instilling the love of the game that he picked up immediately that Saturday morning in fifth grade.
“I have so much fun out here,” Spangler said. “There’s so much family and bonding. I have really good friends I wouldn’t have met, if it wasn’t for bowling.”
He didn’t exactly come out swinging.
“I was really bad,” Spangler said.
“Shhh…no one needs to know,” Bonnette said.
Both captains point to accuracy as the biggest area that they’ve improved.
Third-year Dukes coach Allen Wickert called Spangler his “MVP” last season, because of his penchant for stepping during team tournaments and delivering. But he was more often than not the odd man out for dual meets, and only threw one game in postseason, a 157 at the state meet.
This year, Wickert expects Spangler to be a rock for his teammates.
“He’s going to be a guy we lean on this year, and he knows it,” Wickert said.
Wickert admits it’s a lot of honing newbies’ technique so that they can relax and trust their muscle memory.
“It’s basically starting from scratch, and I always tell the guys that – whether you’re just starting out or a veteran bowler – there’s 100 things that have to go right before you even hit the foul line, for you to throw a good shot,” Wicker said.
And a lot of bowling success begins between the ears.
“You’ve got these guys who are trying their best, and they need to relax,” Wickert said. “If you’re too tense, you’re not going to bowl well. That’s why Joel comes into play. Crack a joke. Break the tension. That’s what you need.”
Spangler says you also need to embrace the role of underdog and aim to surprise some people. With the massive turnover, it would be quite the feat for the Dukes to make state as a team for a third straight year.
“That’s what me and [Lucas] do,” Spangler said. “We’re surprise bowlers, I guess you could call it.”
Returning bowlers with varsity experience in 2013
Bowler Games Average
Ryan Dixon 70 200
Lucas Bonnette 52 198
Joel Spangler 47 181