LINCOLN — Nebraska’s days of rolling gutter balls for high school bowling are ending.

Bowling was approved Thursday by the NSAA Representative Assembly as a sanctioned sport. It’s the first sport to be added in Nebraska since softball in 1993.

“I’m a little speechless,” said proponent Larry Punteney of Lincoln. “It’s something we’ve worked hard for for 15 years. It’s the benefit that it has for the kids. It touches a kid who is not impacted by any other sport. For somebody who benefited from it myself, yeah, I was in shock with the vote.”

Girls wrestling got partway to championship status. The NSAA board earlier Thursday voted 7-1 to make it the first non-Special Olympic activity to gain emerging sport status.

As a result, in the next three season girls can participate in both their school’s wrestling program and the girls emerging wrestling program. There would not be a separate girls tournament at the start, but the NSAA board could adopt one during the three-year window.

Bowling met the minimum three-fifths approval with a 31-20 vote. NSAA Executive Director Jay Bellar said the board will begin discussions at its June meeting about how and when to bring bowling on board.

It’s possible, because of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting school budget concerns, that it might not start until the 2021-22 school year. Punteney, who’s coached Lincoln Pius X’s club team, said that would be understandable.

“That might not be a bad thing,” he said. “We have an infrastructure where the kids who are bowling now could continue to do that for a year while the NSAA figures out how it will run the sport in the future.”

To be determined will be the competition format. Punteney said he could foresee a combination of individual scores — like in league bowling — with scores from the college format, called Baker, of a team bowling a rotation of individual frames in a game used to generate an overall team score.

“You think about all the states around us that have had bowling for years,” he said. “And finally we get to benefit from it here.”

Punteney said when he spoke to the board during the public comment portion of its meeting, he anticipated falling a vote short of adoption.

“To be honest with you,” he said, “I haven’t looked through to see which district came through with the extra vote.”

The Representative Assembly used Zoom, the first time in NSAA history there was not an in-person meeting. The NSAA board met in person at the association offices.

A motion from the floor by Omaha Westside Athletic Director Tom Kerkman to change the Class A enrollment cutoff from 850 students in grades 9-10-11 to 900 failed to advance to a statewide referendum by three votes.

The board also approved starting the eight-man football playoffs with a substate round for the 32 qualifying teams with a split based on geography. The 16 winners will be placed on a statewide bracket.

In cross country, Class A cross country districts will be at one site and Class C will expand from 44 to 60 schools.

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