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Most student-athletes don’t battle against competition until they reach game day, but for DePue senior bowler James Yundt, he didn’t see game day until after a three-year battle.
The Wheeling native who moved to DePue in the summer between his eighth grade and freshman years has been bowling since he was 3 on traveling teams, league teams and in state tournaments.
But before the La Salle-Peru Regional on Jan. 18 at the Illinois Valley Super Bowl, he had never bowled in an Illinois High School Association event because DePue didn’t have a team.
“We’ve been trying since my freshman year,” Yundt said of the efforts from DePue’s athletic director Jim Barto and himself. “I can only do so much as a bowler. The other stuff is up to them. I don’t really have much of a say in that stuff. It was just, ‘Let’s see if I can get myself on a team.’ At least this year I had individuals and had a chance.”
This year, the IHSA revised its ruling and allowed individuals from schools without teams to participate.
Yundt didn’t get to engage in high school practices or regular season meets against IHSA bowlers. However, he got his “chance” to hit the lanes in the regional.
“I investigated and talked with the IHSA on the possible ways we could achieve this for James,” said Barto, who has tried to form a bowling co-op with La Salle-Peru and Hall. “This was also discussed with our administration and school board at our yearly athletic sports survey as well. There was not enough interest to start our own bowling team.
“It was very frustrating for me not to be able to find a way for James to participate in something he is so passionate about. It was heartbreaking every time I had to talk to James about being unsuccessful at achieving this feat. I could hear the disappointment in his voice when he would talk to me about it. He kept a positive attitude that we would figure something out.”
Not only did Yundt participate at the regional, but he thrived as his 1,147 six-game series score earned him a sectional berth as the seventh place individual not on an advancing team.
The bowler who uses the Sunday high school league at the Super Bowl for practice and competition showed his lane skills once again as he placed 16th out of the 60 bowlers at the Mascoutah Sectional with a score of 1,261 — 16 pins shy of the 10th and final state-advancing position.
“I think it’s just a learning experience,” Yundt said of his first and only IHSA postseason. “You have to get used to the situations that you’re in. Like (Saturday), I knew I needed to put up a big number for the last three games to have a chance to continue on to state. You have to be used to that pressure. When you’re not used to it, it’s a whole different game. It goes from being fun to you have to get the job done.”
Yundt, who will be bowling for Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee next winter, said his league and traveling team bowling prepared him for the pressure situations and he will now use the sectional experience to boost his game for college.
In order for Yundt to lace up his alley shoes for the regional and sectional, the IHSA told Barto he had to find someone to name coach.
Enter Tiffany Smith.
Smith, a DePue teacher, said Barto asked if she would be interested in being the bowling coach and she accepted the position.
Since there weren’t practices or meets Yundt could engage in, Smith didn’t see her only bowler until his regional debut.
“I was very impressed with him,” Smith said. “Between watching him and the other players, he was right up there with everyone else. In fact, he was even higher than some players on a team. He was very professional about it and I was very impressed with his mannerisms and also how he performed with the pressure and everyone there.”
Smith, who says the position is more of a supporting role than a coach, thinks Yundt’s desire to bowl could lead to a DePue bowling program.
Yundt knows there are students interested in bowling, but they’ll have to continue the battling he’s done for the last four years in order to bowl before the postseason.
The next step may be constructing a team or having a local place to bowl.
“We used to have a bowling alley — I guess a long time ago — and it got removed,” Yundt said. “If we still had one, there’s still kids at our school who love to bowl and want to go bowl. It’s just not around the corner. You have to drive to Peru. You have to drive to Ladd. It’s not right there in the middle of town.”