It’s not easy when the guy who answers to “dad” also doubles as “coach,” but senior Melanie Hannon has managed to master that as well as the 4-6 split.
The Maryvale bowler is one of several athletes in Western New York who is coached on the varsity level by a parent. But Melanie and her father, Joe, have done a lot more bonding than battling in what can sometimes be a difficult dynamic.
The Hannons have been able to escape the common perception of favoritism, the feeling of isolation from teammates, dealing with high expectations and arguments at the dinner table because they’ve been upfront over the years and have made decisions together.
Sometimes a parent can’t bear to watch, so Joe doesn’t. It’s not unusual for him to take a walk to the other end of the bowling center, even if his daughter is in the middle of a tight match.
“What I try not to do is micro-manage shot after shot; I never wanted to be that guy,” he said. “I don’t think anybody should do that. You have to let the kid grow by themselves. I just kind of check out for a few minutes. I need to give her that space. If I could ever tell a parent anything, it would be to give kids a little breathing room during competition.”
And when the pins aren’t dropping, the car ride home is no time to discuss oil patterns. Joe has always waited until the next day, or the next practice, to do any evaluations.
“Every time we go to a tournament we just kind of work together to figure things out,” said Melanie. “He’s not like, ‘stand here, play here.’ He asks for my opinion, too. He gives me time to think.”
Of course it’s much easier when your child talent-wise is in a league of her own. Melanie has dominated the local high school girls bowling scene the last three years.
In 2011 she was named one of six Dexter All-Americans after her performance at the New York State Public High School championships, then won the North Pointe High School Singles Championship that summer in Las Vegas and reached the semifinals of the Teen Masters.
This year, she led the 25 teams in the ECIC with a 223 average. She had her three-game high of 737 at the Roy Sommer and her six-game high of 1,324 at the Festival of Lights Tournament.
The last three seasons she has led Maryvale to the ECIC title and a combined 31-1 record. She’ll compete on Thursday at the Section VI Championships at Thruway Lanes. The boys bowl on Friday.
She capped her brilliant six-year high school career signing a national letter of intent with Fairleigh Dickinson of New Jersey. Her combined athletic and academic package will pay for 90 percent of her college costs. Among her other offers was Wichita State, where she was offered a spot on the team without a tryout.
“We’re in a pretty good mood over here, looking at not having any college expenses, all the hard work paid off and the fun we had along the way,” said Joe. “If it’s all blood and guts and just about being successful in those weekend tournaments, that doesn’t work for you. You’re not going to win every event.”
Joe said women’s college bowling across the country is growing as more schools add teams. The scholarship dollars are out there if you can put together a decent body of work, he said, and look down the food chain a little instead of shooting for schools like Nebraska, Vanderbilt and Central Missouri.
When the Hannons hit the road in the early years the idea was not to bring home trophies but to seek the best competititon. That meant competing in places like Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Ohio, Connecticut, New Jersey, Grand Central Station and Staten Island. Joe said the experience can be overwhelming at first, and one of the first things you learn is how to fail.
While competing, Melanie had a front-row seat to see how better bowlers competed.
“Good bowlers don’t hide what they’re doing,” said Joe. “We used that as our model. We finished middle of the road, but we got so much out of it. If you stay among kids you can beat all the time, you’re not going to get to where you want to go. You gotta bowl along side the Liz Johnsons of the world.”
Who knows, Melanie may even chart the course for others someday.