BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Everybody’s familiar with professional golf teachers. And everyone’s heard of taking lessons from tennis instructors.
But did you ever hear of a professional bowling instructor? Or realize there are about a dozen certified teachers in Lebanon County?
That may be something that’s not necessarily down your alley.
The concept is pretty much the same. Bowlers of all levels pluck down nominal fees – either individually or in groups – to learn to bowl and to learn to bowl better.
Scott Shirk is one of those under-publicized bowling teachers. And given his relationship with Palmyra Bowling, he may be one of the area’s most visible instructors.
“That is true,” said Shirk. “People don’t realize there are teachers for bowling. They look at bowling not as a sport, but as fun. I want to show them it’s a fun sport and that there’s sportsmanship involved.
“The people who come to me want to learn more, more about the sport,” Shirk continued. “Even league bowlers don’t know a lot about it. They don’t know how a ball does X,Y or Z, and they don’t know why a ball does X,Y or Z.”
For Shirk, bowling instruction is a part-time pursuit. He’s been bowling for his entire adult life and teaching it for the past 15 years.
“I’ve been bowling since I was 11,” said Shirk, 50 and a graduate of Lebanon High School. “I enjoy bowling. I love bowling and I always liked to help others. Through 39 years of bowling I wanted to give back to the sport.
“What I hope to accomplish is to teach the proper release point, so my customers can utilize their power to the proper potential,” added Shirk. “If you’re not using the ball to its proper potential you won’t get the proper pin action. I check with everyone and we throw. Everyone knows I’m not just going to put a ball in their hands. I take them out on the lanes and make sure everything feels good and give them little tips.”
Shirk wouldn’t even venture a guess as to how many bowlers he’s helped over the years. But his goal has remained constant – to increase averages and decrease handicaps.
“Since I’ve come to Palmyra, I’ve had five to ten students a month, and most of them have gone on to join leagues,” said Shirk. “I want to show them that they can have fun and be productive. I also want to show them that this is an individual sport, as well as a team sport.
“I’ve helped people from Philly to Maryland to Jersey, and everywhere in between,” added Shirk. “If I had to put a number on it, it would have to be between 500 and a thousand. And that’s an estimate. I’ve helped so many people.”
While alleys are open year round, most bowling locally is done over the winter months, from September to the end of April. There are about 2,000 semi-serious to serious bowlers in Lebanon County and they comprise the majority of the players in the locale’s 32 competitive leagues.
“We have approximately,” said Shirk, “just in Lebanon County, in our area, maybe 40 to 50 bowlers that I would say are exceptional. That’s from junior bowlers to adults. That’s a pretty good number.”
Part of Shirk’s success as a teacher can be traced to the fact that there are many out there who are buying what he is selling.
“Just about everyone is receptitive,” said Shirk. “I have yet to have anyone not listen to what I tell them. I take deep, sincere interest in all of my customers. I want to know about you so I can implement that into your ball. I take pride in all of my students, from youth to adult.
“The most common mistake is from the first step to the last step,” Shirk concluded. “It’s all in their timing. Timing is everything and it’s very crucial in this sport. If you don’t have the same rhythm, you’re not going to have the same release and you’re not going to have the same rotation.”