An honor for the Holly High School bowling teams has left community members pondering why a local business was overlooked.
The Holly High School Athletic Department posted on social media on Saturday an announcement that the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) has named Holly as the host for the winter bowling regional tournament.
The tournament event, however, will not be held in Holly, but at Cherry Hill North in Clarkston, which Holly has used as its home facility for the past several years.
The post generated both congratulatory comments, as well as complaints and questions as to why Holly’s local bowling alley, Holly Lanes, was not chosen, including from owner Brian Aubuchon.
Deb VanKuiken, athletic director for Holly Area Schools, explained that neither the post nor the decision was intended as a slight or reflection of Mr. Aubuchon and Holly Lanes, and that the bowling program’s history and current relationships were the primary factors.
The Holly bowling program began as a club sport at Holly High School, meaning that the team could compete against other schools, but could not participate in MHSAA-sanctioned events like regional or state finals.
The program also did not have a budget to pay coaches or cover other fees and costs, which were covered by fundraising and the sponsorship of their host lanes, at that time, Holly Lanes.
In 2010, after the program had been elevated to a fully-sanctioned school sport, Ms. VanKuiken met with the previous owners of Holly Lanes in an attempt to work with them to provide more suitable conditions for the team.
“It was dark in there and not very clean. It needed some work.” Ms. VanKuiken said. “Our coaches had to arrive to practice early to oil the lanes themselves, and our coaches were still unpaid and had their own full-time jobs. They did it because they loved the sport and loved the kids.
“We wanted to give (the previous owners) a chance, so we gave them a year to make some progress. We didn’t want to just cut and run on them.”
When the improvements didn’t materialize, Holly made the move to Cherry Hill North. Mr. Aubuchon purchased Holly Lanes in November of 2011, beginning massive renovations, investing more than a million dollars in the facility over the past four years.
“Everyone knew the state of the center before I took over, so there’s no ill-will for them leaving,” Mr. Aubuchon said. “We just want the opportunity to say, ‘now, what can we do to help? What can we do to bring the team back here to the community.”
Cherry Hill North offered the Broncho bowling team some distinct advantages for the growing program. The facility was large enough to host major events, like the Oakland County Bowling Tournament, without having to split events into morning and afternoon sessions or address issues like parking.
Revenue was also a factor, as serving as tournament hosts yielded significant revenue for the program, which still does not have a dedicated budget. The Oakland County Tournament, for example, produced more than $1000 in revenue for the program.
Holly was also able to conduct fundraising activities during the facility’s numerous bowling leagues, whereas the leagues at Holly Lanes were still beginning to regrow after the renovation hiatus.
“We want to support local business as much as possible,” said Ms. VanKuiken. “It’s just that in this situation, we have a very positive arrangement with Cherry Hill North that is providing great opportunities for our student athletes.
“That’s not to say that things won’t change in the future, either. Brian has done a great job with the bowling alley and it is really a first-class facility.”
After comments on both the athletic department’s social media post and Mr. Aubuchon’s own post reached a fever pitch, both Ms. VanKuiken and Mr. Aubuchon removed the posts.
“It just grew out of control,” Mr. Aubuchon said. “Things were taken out of context and ignored and it stopped being productive.”
Ms. VanKuiken agreed, stating her regrets that the community discussion took a wrong turn.
“We had no intention of hurting anyone with the post, but that’s what ended up happening when it turned into a forum,” she said.
Although Mr. Aubuchon and Ms. VanKuiken have not discussed this issue in particular yet, they have had productive discussions in the past and both said they want to work together more closely in the future.
“There is definitely no animosity towards Holly Schools and the bowling program,” Mr. Aubuchon said. “Even though we moved out of Holly, we still have three kids in the schools now and two more coming up. We’re huge supporters and we want to do everything we can for the program.”
The interest in bowling has grown to the point where Holly now has a middle school program, which is sponsored by and hosted at Holly Lanes. Mr. Aubuchon has also welcomed all Broncho bowlers to Holly Lanes as a practice facility.
“All of the powerhouse teams in the Flint Metro League have that kind of farm club in their middle school program,” Mr. Aubuchon said. “In the end, it’s about the kids and their experience and that’s what we need to focus on.”
CORRECTION: In a previous version of the article, it was stated that the club started in 2008. The Holly bowling program was started in 1999.