Oakland Student Wins National Bowling Scholarship

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Oakland student wins national bowling scholarship
Photo from Rutherford County Schools

By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools

William “Will” Smith doesn’t mind that he shares a name with a well-known actor from Hollywood — because he’s making a name for himself.

Will recently earned the Zeb Scholarship Award — the first from Tennessee to do so — from the United States Bowling Congress.

“The award recognizes a USBC member who achieves academic success and gives back to their community through service,” according to the USBC. “This scholarship is based mainly on community service and very strong academic success.”

The scholarship is named for Jim Zebehazy, former executive director of the Young American Bowling Alliance and a former manager for USBC.

In April, Will is scheduled to receive the award in Las Vegas, where he will be honored alongside winners of other USBC awards.

Will recently sat down (with RCS) for a Q&A interview to talk about how he found his love for bowling and where he hopes it takes him.

QUESTION: First off, how did you get this award and what is it?

ANSWER: So it’s the Zeb scholarship. It is a scholarship that they’ve awarded since 2005. (Zebehazy) started a lot of volunteer organizations, and he was just a very large portion of why bowling grew to where it is today. He and some other people set up the Zeb Foundation, they were able to bring some scholarship money, and that’s how it started.

I saw that it was an opportunity to help with my scholarship money and be an opportunity to kind of bring myself out into the world and just kind of show what I’ve done and show the things that I’ve been through.

Q: What is your background and how did you get into bowling?

A: So I’m a youth bowler here in Middle Tennessee. I’ve been bowling since fourth grade in elementary school all the way up to where I am now. I bowl nationally and in youth tournaments, and I actually have my bronze level certificate for coaching.

Aside from bowling — because they do ask about other things than just bowling — they ask about your personal life and things you’ve done outside, like volunteering. I am a Boy Scout, and I actually just attained the rank of Eagle. I’m in the (Mechatronics) program here at Oakland, and we do a lot of cool things.

Oakland itself has really helped to cultivate a good bowling experience here, even just with the team and Coach (Kevin) Wright. He’s a phenomenal coach.

Q: What got you into bowling in fourth grade?

A: It was a time when I was trying to decide what I wanted, because I wanted to get into extracurricular activities. I was playing baseball at the time. I picked up bowling because my mom saw it on their website. But around middle school, it was a time where I needed to pick one because the schedules won’t allow me to do both at the same time.

You know bowling can last you your whole life. You can bowl when you’re five years old, you can bowl when you’re 90 years old. So I just decided, this I want to do this and this is going to be the most fun for me for the longest amount of time, so I picked bowling and I went with it.

I practiced every day for a long stretch of time. I was practicing at least six days out of the week. And when my brother used to do league at the Smyrna Bowling Center, I would go off to the side and down some lanes and maybe bowl 20 games during the league.

Q: Tell me about your experience with bowling in high school.

A: Yes, sir. Ninth grade year was my distance learning year, so it was a little bit difficult. Actually, I had to miss two games because my family got COVID, and we had to quarantine for those two weeks. Right after quarantine, I got COVID and so I had to be quarantined for four weeks. I know that did hinder a lot of other bowlers, so the fact that we were able to rebuild our team after that is just a testament to how good Oakland is at helping us do that.

Then sophomore year, we had a really good team. I’d say sophomore year was easily my favorite year, and we had a good amount of really good bowlers and they’re really good friends too. We did not make it to state, but we did get third place. We were actually the only team to defeat the undefeated team, so that was a nice thing to be able to accomplish.

But I think at the end of the day in bowling, that’s the difference between bowling and other team sports. When you’re done bowling, you’re all still friends at the end, and you’re all like making jokes and sitting down (together). Where as in football or a baseball game, you’re really relegated to your side of the field and you’re kind of looking at them like opponents the whole time. And while we do look at our opponents as opponents, I could name off at least three to four people from every team in the district, so I know a lot of them were really good friends.

Q: What is your average right now?

A: My league average at LTA (Lanes, Trains and Automobiles) right now, that average I believe is up to about 248. My last sanctioned average in high school was 222, and I believe my big tournament average that I do singles, that is — I believe — around 200, maybe 190.

Q: Where do you plan to go to college?

A: I have a few choices that I’m considering right now. Just to name a few … Milligan out in East Tennessee, Trine in Indiana, and Spring Arbor in Michigan. I have toured all those schools, met all those coaches. They’re all wonderful people and wonderful schools. A couple of others that I’ve looked at are Indiana Tech, Grace, and Lawrence Tech. They have really nice schools and coaches too. But I think the biggest thing for me now, looking into those schools, is academics comes first for me because I’d like to be a mechanical engineer in conjunction with my bowling. So those are really the two biggest things I’m looking for in a college.

Q: What do you think about earning this scholarship?

A: It’s a very large honor, especially being the first person in Tennessee. I guess what I’d like to do is try and set a goal and set a standard for youth bowlers to help grow their sport and just look at all these different opportunities that have been laid out. There’s a lot of youth bowlers out there who are wondering, “How am I going to be able to get into this college that I want. How am I going to be able to afford to do this?” There are a lot of opportunities to get different scholarships, as long as you learn how to write good essays and put in the effort.