By Chris Chaney
Kathy Demarko never was your typical high school bowling coach, so it’s only true to form that her annual summer camp wasn’t a run-of-the-mill endeavor, either.
The vibrant and engaging former Glen Este High School coach hosted the 13th and final edition of her summer camp last week at Cherry Grove Lanes, teaching bowlers ages eight to 18 the fundamentals of the game with the emphasis on “fun.”
“We do all sorts of things — softball toss, cornhole, underhand football throw — all with the fundamentals in mind,” she said. “Everything we do has a point. We teach how do throw these different things below the waist. That all comes back to the bowling motion.”
Another aspect of Demarko’s camp that separates itself from others is the “we” that she talks about. Aside from herself, Demarko enlists the help of a talented corps of United State Bowling Congress-certified coaches that span from present and past high school bowlers to those at the helm of their own programs. The list of coaches who worked at the camp this year includes Glen Este’s next head coach and Demarko’s replacement, Kevin Briggs. Briggs, along with Tony Kellerman, Joe MacFarland, Gary Stroup, Roger Bussell, Robin Wilson, Kyle Grogan, Tristan Dumont, Leslie Campbell, Blake Huber, Nic Huber, Rick Huber and Thomas Stewart, gave campers a wide range of expertise and plenty of eyeballs to help them improve their games.
“It’s amazing how much improvement you can see just over the course of a year,” Demarko said, commenting on the 30, 40 and even 50 pins multiple-year attendees have picked up thanks in no small part to her unique weeklong camp.
Part of what makes campers come back year after year is the differing style and atmosphere Demarko and her cast of coaches create. Instead of coming in each day and pounding balls down the lane for three hours, Demarko found through trial and error over the years that incorporating different drills keeps campers on their toes.
“If they were to come in and just bowl for three hours straight, they’d go numb,” she explained. “We like to mix it up and have fun.”
A typical day at Demarko’s Bowling Camp starts with a meeting, perhaps a short quiz or test to hammer home what the campers learned previously, and then instead of hitting the lanes, the entire group goes outside.
If you were to pull into Cherry Grove between 9 a.m. and noon last week, you may have been hard-pressed to find a parking spot with cornhole boards and footballs flying around.
“We don’t put the (cornhole) board the normal 27 feet apart because making a cornhole isn’t our goal; it’s all about the form,” Demarko said.
Campers use a motion of rolling their hands over the cornhole bags like they would putting spin on a ball. Similarly, campers toss footballs underhand like you would see football referees do after the completion of a play to accomplish the same goal.
Later, inside the bowling center, campers kneel on a sheet of paper that has a picture of clock without hands and roll softballs back and forth to practice their takeaway and follow-through, giving them a visual that otherwise would be abstract.
It’s these types of drills that keep things fresh and loose and it’s the watchful eye of the 14 coaches that allow campers to get the most out of their experience even after the week is over.
“I think it’s important to know what your stengths and weaknesses are because otherwise, how would you know what to work on?” Demarko asked rhetorically. “So, what we do is have coaches write down for each kid what they do well, what they need to improve upon and what drills can help them get better.”
Demarko said that her ideas in terms of how to run the camp and allow the attendees to get the most out of it were the result of the 12 years she put together previously. Each year, campers, their parents and even coaches fill out multiple tip sheets about what they liked, what they didn’t and how they thought the camp could be improved. Demarko has put those tips into action and next year, with her stepping down as the head coach at Glen Este and giving up the reigns to her camp, the onus will fall upon Briggs, whom Demarko believes is fully capable.
“Kevin will be great,” she said. “I dropped off boxes and boxes of paper work that he will have to go through, but he’s fully prepared and has a program ready to go.
“(As for the camp), it’s all his. He can run it however he wants.”
The naming rights to the camp, Demarko said, are also up for grabs.
Even with Demarko stepping down — a promise she made to her husband — getting her out of the bowling center will be difficult, by her own admission, but she’s confident that the program and camp she built will continue to prosper in the next era.
“It’s going to be difficult, no doubt about it,” she said. “But like I said, Kevin’s fully capable and I told him that if he needs anything, all he has to do is pick up the phone and give me a call. I made a promise to step back and that’s what I’m going to do, but if he needs some help, I’ll be there for him.”
Briggs will take over as Glen Este’s coach in the winter and the de facto bowling camp organizer next summer. And perhaps the greatest tribute he can pay to his predecessor will be to continue to do things with the energy and care that she did.