For more than a year, Kim Terrell-Kearney pitched athletic directors on the merits of women’s college bowling.
In convention halls and hotel ballrooms between 2002 and 2003, Terrell-Kearney, the collegiate coordinator for the United States Bowling Congress (USBC), presented her best arguments. Teams were inexpensive. They could help meet Title IX requirements. Barriers to success were low if you go in on the ground floor. With the right coach and some strategic recruiting, any program, from an NCAA Division I state flagship to a private Division III commuter, can contend for a national championship.
Per NCAA bylaws, a sport’s viability had to be proved by having at least 40 schools register. “We certainly initially didn’t get the interest we were hoping or expecting when we first started the process,” Terrell-Kearney said. Yet her delivery, as it had inside the lanes, remained calm.
Growing up the youngest of four sisters, Terrell-Kearney would tag along with her siblings to local bowling centers across the San Francisco Bay Area. She went on to become a two-time All-American at San Jose State University, after which she embarked on an august career: U.S. representative to the 1988 Olympics (when bowling was an exhibition event), three-time major tournament winner and inductee into the USBC Hall of Fame in 2010.
Her shot was smooth and steadfast. Some bowlers place a high number of revolutions on the ball, while others put few. Terrell-Kearney was a mid-rev thrower who got steady, repeatable results. The ball would leisurely drift wide, almost scrape the edge of the gutter then careen back to collapse the pocket (the front right pins) as if the whole apparatus were magnetized.
Despite early snags, eight athletic conferences eventually committed to women’s bowling, surpassing the 40-school threshold. Young women could now attend college on bowling scholarships. Burgeoning budgets would mean more travel, bigger tournaments, greater exposure.
Securing these conferences meant a lot to Terrell-Kearney. That three of the early adopters — the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association — were historically black conferences meant something particularly special.
Terrell-Kearney spent her career as one of the only black bowlers on the professional tour. “I was used to being the only one in the bowling center or going to these small towns where I didn’t see another black person the entire time,” she said from the campus of North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where she now is the head coach of the women’s team.