Photo: The Alley manager Emily Gibbs is readying the facility for the state bowling tournament January 27-28. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For what is believed to be a first, a venue in Gadsden and Etowah County will host an Alabama High School Athletic Association-sanctioned state tournament.
The AHSAA Class 1A-5A and Class 6A-7A state bowling tournaments will be held at The Alley at the Gadsden Mall on Thursday, January 27 and Friday, January 28.
The Alley Manager Emily Gibbs said that the 18-lane facility will be ready for the 32 teams and accompanying supporters that will soon descend upon 1001 Rainbow Drive and the surrounding area.
“If we can pull this off, it’s going to be a huge deal both for us and the City of Gadsden,” said Gibbs. “We’ve made a lot of improvements to the building to make sure that everything will be in place, from getting the bleachers ready to getting projectors in place to make sure that everyone can see. We’re going to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape and that everything goes smoothly.”
Gadsden City and Southside bowling coaches Renza Avery and Zach Blume approached Gibbs last September after learning that Oak Mountain Lanes in Pelham would not host the 2022 state tournament. Gibbs was receptive to the idea, and Blume sent the AHSAA a proposal, and AHSAA officials tour of the facility soon afterwards.
“They absolutely loved it,” said Gibbs. “We looked over the contract and decided to sign. It’s amazing to have this opportunity, and we’re so excited to be a part of it.”
Although his GCHS boys and girls bowling teams did not qualify for the regional tournament,
Avery is excited that the school’s hometown will host state. The Etowah girls and boys and the Southside girls qualified for the North Regional Tournament, after which the top eight teams ad-vance to state.
“It would’ve been nicer if we were participating [in the state tournament], but this is huge for the community,” he said. “We’ve got three local teams that have a good chance to make it [to state], so hopefully we’ll have some local representatives. With [high school] bowling being such new sport, there are very few sites that are capable of hosting either the regionals or the state tournaments. It’s mostly been confined to the larger cities, so to have it here in Gadsden is something. From the hotels to the restaurants to the stores in town, everybody is going to bene-fit.”
After winning four straight state champion-ships, the Southside girls lost to Stanhope-El-more in the Class 6A/7A state quarterfinals in 2021.
“Being able to have bowling be the first state tournament here is really a thrill,” said Blume. “Basically, coach Avery pitched the idea to The Alley and I pitched the idea to the AHSAA, and it all came together. We’re going to have quite a lot of bowlers in Gadsden for a few days next week, and I’m excited that we get to show off just a great venue like The Alley to the rest of the state. Everything in there is new and top of the line. It’s going to be a great couple of days.”
The Etowah girls made it to the 1A-5A state semifinals last season, losing to eventual state champion Satsuma.
“Our school and Southside and Gadsden City are all super-excited since the day we found out,” said EHS bowling coach Shawanna Roper. “We’ve all been jumping in and helping out. The Alley had a lot of questions about bowling, and we’ve been trying to answer as many of those questions as we can. [The Alley] is really a beautiful place, and I’m so glad that so many people will get to see that and how much we have to offer around here. I know that both us and Southside will try really hard at regionals to make sure that we have someone [local] at state.”
Avery had his GCHS boys team practice against Etowah earlier this week to help the Blue Devils get ready for the postseason.
“We really appreciated that, and I think it gave a us good push for regionals,” said Roper. “It really takes a lot off of me as a coach, and I can’t thank them enough for their help. It’s nice for all three schools to be like a family, even if it’s just for a little bit.”
For the bowlers and their supports between games, The Alley offers activities including a video arcade, cornhole, air hockey, virtual reality, play tunnels for youngsters and a restaurant. Gibbs said she recently provided a heads-up to fellow mall retailers to expect an uptick in customers during the state tournament.
“The mall has so much to offer, and people at the tournament are going to be looking for something to during their downtime, like eating or shopping or going to the movies,” she said.
Gibbs added that The Factory, which along with The Alley is owned by Beth Ann Mashburn, will offer coupons for the tournament.
“We want to involve as many people as possible,” said Gibbs. “We’re very excited about this [tournament] and we want to get everyone in Gadsden as excited as we are.”
Although she does not expect the tournament to be a financial windfall for The Alley, Gibbs said that the exposure will be well worth it.
“This will bring attention to us, to Gadsden and to the kids in our area,” she said. “A lot of people really don’t realize how competitive a sport high school bowling is, so this should help with that.”
Gibbs added that all CDC guidelines for COVID protocols will be followed to the letter.
“We already deep clean this place after every customer, but I’m sure it will be amped up with so many people here. In any case, we’ll be ready.”
Admission for the state tournament is $12 per day. Tickets may be purchased online at www.gofan.com.
“I thought that Emily did a wonderful job in giving [The Alley’s] presentation to the [AHSAA] state committee,” added Avery. “Me and Coach Blume and Coach Roper just put our two cents in to help make it happen. If we can do a good enough job, hopefully we can do it again in the future.”