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Is Bowling a Varsity Sport? The Surprising Facts

  • Reading time:11 mins read

High school sports are a point of pride for many communities, with passionate players, dedicated coaches, and enthusiastic fans packing the stands on game days.

But when it comes to determining which sports qualify as “varsity” level, the criteria can vary quite a bit across different states and school districts. One sport that often finds itself on the fence is bowling – is it considered a true varsity sport, or more of a club-level activity?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the current landscape of bowling as a high school sport. We’ll explore what makes a sport eligible for varsity status, investigate bowling’s standing across the country, and highlight the benefits for students if their school recognizes it as a varsity offering.

By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of bowling’s varsity sport status and how students can get involved, whether their school officially sanctions it or not.

What Makes a Sport a “Varsity” Sport?

Before we delve into the specifics of bowling, let’s first establish what qualifies a sport to be considered a varsity-level activity at the high school level. While the criteria can vary slightly by state, there are generally a few common requirements:

  1. Recognition by state high school athletic associations. For a sport to be considered a varsity offering, it must be officially sanctioned and governed by the state’s high school athletic association or interscholastic athletic organization. These governing bodies set the rules, season schedules, and championship structures for varsity sports.
  2. Organized interscholastic competition. Varsity sports involve competitive matchups between teams from different high schools, rather than just intramural or club-level play. There are established schedules, tournaments, and ways for teams to qualify for postseason events.
  3. Access to school resources and funding. When a sport is designated as varsity, the high school provides access to facilities, coaches, equipment, and other resources to support the team. There is also typically school funding allocated for varsity programs.
  4. Pathway to college scholarships. Many colleges and universities offer varsity athletic scholarships. So for high school athletes, participation in a varsity sport can open up opportunities for continued competition and potential scholarship money at the next level.

So in summary, a varsity sport is one that is formally recognized, organized, and supported by the high school, with clear avenues for interscholastic competition, student recognition, and college recruitment. Let’s now look at how bowling measures up to these varsity sport criteria.

Is Bowling Considered a Varsity Sport?

The short answer is: it depends. The varsity status of bowling at the high school level can vary quite a bit depending on the state, school district, and even individual high schools. There’s no universal, nationwide consensus on whether bowling should be classified as a varsity sport.

In some states, bowling is indeed considered a fully sanctioned varsity sport. For example, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio all recognize bowling as an official high school varsity offering, with state-level championships and all the trappings of other major sports like football or basketball.

However, in many other states, bowling is viewed more as a club or intramural activity rather than a varsity sport. It may be available at the high school level, but without the formal governance, competitive structure, and resource allocation that defines varsity athletics.

So what accounts for this disparity? There are a few key factors that influence whether a state or school district classifies bowling as a varsity sport:

  • Participation Levels: One of the primary drivers is the overall participation and interest in bowling among high school students. States or districts with robust bowling programs and strong student involvement are more likely to grant varsity status. Conversely, areas with lower bowling participation may relegate it to a club or recreational activity.
  • Funding and Resources: Designating a sport as varsity requires the high school to commit significant funding, facilities, coaching staff, and other resources to support the program. Some schools or districts simply may not have the budget or infrastructure to elevate bowling to that level.
  • Governance Structure: As mentioned earlier, varsity sports need to align with the rules and oversight of the state’s high school athletic association. In states where the governing body does not recognize or sponsor bowling competitions, it becomes more difficult for individual schools to offer it as a varsity option.
  • Historical Tradition: Many of the sports considered “major” varsity offerings today, like football, basketball, and baseball, have long-standing histories and deep roots in high school athletic programs. Bowling, on the other hand, is a relatively newer addition to the high school sports landscape in most areas. The lack of historical precedent can make it harder for bowling to gain varsity status.

So in summary, the varsity status of bowling is a mixed bag across the country. It’s a sport that has achieved varsity recognition in some states, but is still viewed as more of a club or intramural activity in many others. The specific factors at play in a given state or school district ultimately determine whether bowling qualifies as a true varsity sport offering.

The Benefits of Bowling as a Varsity Sport

For high school students who have the opportunity to participate in varsity bowling, there are a number of valuable benefits that come with that designation:

  1. Earning a Varsity Letter: One of the most tangible rewards of varsity-level participation is the ability to earn a varsity letter. This prestigious letter jacket or patch serves as a visible symbol of the student’s athletic accomplishments and commitment to their sport. Varsity letters carry significant prestige and can be an important point of pride.
  2. Access to Coaching and Resources: When bowling is classified as a varsity sport, the high school is obligated to provide the team with dedicated, qualified coaches. These coaches can help develop the players’ skills, provide strategic guidance, and prepare the team for competition. Varsity teams also gain access to school facilities, equipment, and other resources that may not be available to club-level programs.
  3. Structured Competitive Schedule: Varsity bowling follows an established schedule of matches and tournaments, culminating in regional and state-level championships. This structured competitive environment gives student-athletes the opportunity to test their skills against the best bowlers in their state or region. It also allows them to experience the thrill and pressure of high-stakes tournament play.
  4. College Recruitment Opportunities: For high school bowlers with aspirations of continuing their athletic careers in college, varsity status is key. Many colleges and universities offer bowling scholarships, but they are typically only available to athletes who have varsity-level experience. Participating in a state-sanctioned varsity bowling program can open the door to these recruitment and scholarship opportunities.
  5. Community Recognition and School Spirit: When bowling is recognized as a varsity sport, it elevates the entire program’s profile within the high school and local community. Varsity teams often receive more media coverage, school-wide recognition, and fan support than club-level programs. This sense of school pride and community involvement can be incredibly motivating for student-athletes.

Of course, the actual experience and benefits of varsity bowling can vary depending on the specific high school and state. But in general, the varsity designation provides student-athletes with a more comprehensive and rewarding athletic experience compared to a club or intramural bowling program.

Getting Involved in High School Bowling

For high school students interested in the sport of bowling, the first step is to determine the current status of the activity at their school. Is it offered as a varsity-level program, a club team, or simply an intramural activity? Knowing the existing structure is key to understanding the opportunities available.

If bowling is already recognized as a varsity sport at the student’s high school, the process for getting involved is fairly straightforward. Students can simply reach out to the school’s athletic department or bowling coach to express their interest and find out about tryout procedures, practice schedules, and other pertinent details.

However, if bowling is not currently a varsity offering at the high school, students have a few options to still get involved in the sport:

  1. Advocate for a Varsity Bowling Program: Motivated students can work with their school administrators, athletic directors, and even state athletic associations to make the case for adding bowling as a varsity sport. This may involve demonstrating strong student interest, highlighting available funding sources, or pointing to growing participation trends in the region.
  2. Join a Club or Community Bowling Team: Even without varsity status at the high school, many students can still find opportunities to compete in bowling through local clubs, leagues, or independent travel teams. These programs allow students to hone their skills and gain valuable competitive experience.
  3. Participate in Intramural or Recreational Bowling: For high schools that don’t offer bowling at all, getting involved in an intramural or gym class bowling program can be a good starting point. While not as robust as a varsity or club offering, it still provides an introduction to the sport.

No matter the existing bowling landscape at a high school, there are ways for motivated students to get involved and reap the benefits of this unique athletic opportunity.

By understanding the varsity sport criteria and exploring all available options, high schoolers can chart a path to participate in bowling at a level that suits their interests and abilities.


The debate over whether bowling should be considered a true varsity sport at the high school level continues to rage on across the country. While some states and school districts have fully embraced bowling as a sanctioned, competitive offering, others still view it as more of a club or recreational activity.

Ultimately, the varsity status of bowling comes down to a combination of factors, including student participation levels, available funding and resources, governing body oversight, and historical athletic program traditions.

In areas where bowling is recognized as a varsity sport, high school athletes can enjoy a comprehensive, competitive experience complete with varsity letters, qualified coaching, and potential college recruitment opportunities.

However, even in districts where bowling lacks varsity designation, there are still ways for motivated students to get involved in the sport through club teams, community programs, and intramural activities. With a little persistence and creative problem-solving, high schoolers can find meaningful ways to pursue their passion for bowling.

Regardless of a school’s current bowling offerings, the sport provides valuable lessons in discipline, teamwork, and mental focus that translate well to both athletic and academic pursuits. As more high schools and states recognize the merits of varsity bowling, we’re likely to see the sport’s profile and participation continue to grow in the years ahead.

So for any high school student with an interest in knocking down pins, it’s well worth exploring the options in your local area. Who knows – you just might be the next state bowling champion, varsity letter in hand.