High school bowling was once an afterthought in Philadelphia. In fact, the Philadelphia Public League at one point didn’t have the sport for at least a decade. You wouldn’t have been able to see Philly students compete at regional and state competitions.
Central High School junior Brian Kennedy perhaps put bowling back on the map in the City of Brotherly Love. On March 18 at North Versailles Bowling Center in Pittsburgh suburb North Versailles, Kennedy defeated Penn Trafford’s Noah Hayes, 226-191, in the stepladder final of the 2016 Pennsylvania state singles championships; he started the set with five straight strikes. It’s the first time a Public League bowler- male or female- captured first place in the 24-year history of the event.
Kennedy couldn’t believe he was the winner. After Hayes rolled his final ball, you could see a look of shock on Kennedy’s face. Richard Johns, Central’s head coach, wasn’t present, so Kennedy made his path to glory through the guidance of Public League bowling officials Donald Armstead and Barbara Council-Armstead.
Twenty-four boys- 12 from the east and 12 from the west- qualified for the event. There were six games of qualifying taking place across 12 lanes (each participant bowled on six separate sets on lanes). Only the top five from qualifying would move on to the stepladder playoffs.
After six games, Kennedy was the highest scorer with 1,290, including games of 258 and 241, even though it was 17 pins fewer than his 2015 state tournament total (he came in eighth at last year’s event at 222 Dutch Lanes in Ephrata with 1,307 because the cut line was 1,360). By posting the highest qualifying score, Kennedy earned an automatic spot in the final game. Kennedy was in the top five with Greensburg Salem’s Zachary Heater (1,270), Gateway’s Bailey Diggins (1,248), Hempfield Area’s Bill Thomas (1,214), and Hayes (1,195).
The two-handed Hayes started his climb up the stepladder by defeating four seed Thomas, 211-193, in the opening playoff. Hayes then eliminated third-seeded Diggins, 200-195, in a quarterfinal. During the semifinal, Hayes got he best of two seed Heater, 191-168, before running into Kennedy.
Believe it or not, Kennedy is only the second Public League boy bowler to ever make states. In 2011, Boys Latin’s Jon McDowell was the fourth-best qualifier, which included a 300 game, and settled with fourth place in the stepladder. No one else in Philadelphia but Kennedy has multiple state singles appearances, and he isn’t done yet.