SPRING HILL — The program was dead. It was finished — done.
There are a number of ways to describe the state of the Nature Coast Technical High School bowling team only four months ago, but the fact is it was not competing.
The reasons behind the program's elimination in September 2008 are complicated. According to then-athletic director Travis Lamle, there was no funding available.
But parents, students and even one faculty member stood up to change that.
With a lot of independently organized fundraisers, there was enough money to make the 2009 season a possibility. Still, the team needed approval from the Nature Coast administration and a coach, both major hurdles.
The administration was in flux late last school year with former principal Tizzy Schoelles moving on and Lamle on his way out. Interim superintendent Sonya Jackson, pegged as the incoming principal, never took that spot, and Toni-Ann Noyes took the reins. Kristin Peeples was then hired as athletic director. Both had more pressing issues to deal with than the bowling team.
In stepped Carrie Piechowicz, a guidance counselor at the school, who decided to volunteer her time to lead the two teams. She wouldn't be paid a supplemental salary like the other coaches. She just knew the kids needed someone to help, and she wanted to be that person.
"It was all about the fact that I felt bad these kids didn't have a team last year," Piechowicz said. "You can see the changes in these kids' attitudes from last year to this year because of this team."
When Piechowicz took over, she was given the responsibility of making a schedule for the Sharks. With all of the teams in the district booked, the task was almost impossible. Still, she scheduled seven matches, against Indian Rocks Christian School in Largo, Mount Dora Bible School and Jesuit High School in Tampa.
The last school year the Sharks took to the lanes, they won a state title. To this day, the 2007 boys bowling team is only the sixth athletic team in the history of Hernando County prep sports to win a team state title. The others are Hernando High boys track (1915), Hernando baseball (1967), Hernando softball (1984), Central boys cross country (1996) and Hernando boys cross country (1997).
There was some pressure and excitement this year after the 2007 championship, and the kids responded by going undefeated. The boys are 7-0, the girls 4-0 and the junior varsity 3-0.
The boys team includes two members of the 2007 championship squad: juniors Jeff Morgan and Billy Lummus.
"It's really phenomenal to have another shot," junior Dalton Dokoupil said. "We haven't bowled as many teams as they did two years ago, but we're all just so happy to be back out here."
The girls are also looking strong going into the District 4 tournament Tuesday in Largo. Franki Palermo, whose sister Toni was a member of the last Nature Coast program in 2007, is the leader of the current crew. She praises Piechowicz for her positive effect on the student-athletes.
"Coach Carrie is such a big influence on all of us," she said. "I am the one who always tries to keep everyone motivated, but she pumps up the team more than (I do). She's gotten so close to all of us."
With the support of Piechowicz, who has never bowled competitively, and a plethora of parents on hand for every match, no one would be surprised to see the Sharks competing for a boys or girls state title in November.
"From the first day I took over, I was walking into a great team," Piechowicz said. "I always say it's not if we make it to states, but when."