Our national community is rapidly disintegrating, say the social scientists. We live in growing isolation from one another. We're cocooning. We're iPodding. We're bowling alone.

Oops. Check that. Despite Robert Putnam's now famous thesis (that the demise of bowling leagues symbolizes the rise in social fragmentation), we may not be bowling alone as much as we used to. And if the rising generation is any indication, we may be seeing a new social reintegration.

Earlier this year, The New York Times published "Making Varsity, With a Ball That Has Holes in It" (February 9, 2008, page A20), in which it claimed (via the National Federation of State High School Associations) that the fastest growing high school varsity sport is bowling.

I studied the NFSHSA website and could not find that exact stat for 2004-2005 (though it was certainly true for 2003-2004), but I did discover that team bowling is especially popular in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Tennesse, Ohio, and Florida. Nationwide, nearly 40,000 high school students participate in school-sponsored teams. It surprised me to see that's almost as many as play ice hockey, and twice as many as participate in gymnastics.

When compared with ice hockey and gymnastics, bowling has "an image problem," as the Times put it, so it is often a "stealth sport" on campus. But despite its seeming nerdiness, more and more students are bowling. Together. Why?

The Times's description of one match gives a hint: "At 4 p.m. on a rainy recent Tuesday, the North Bergen Interscholastic Athletic League filled all 36 lanes at Parkway Lanes in Elmwood Park [New Jersey]. It is a relaxed scene, with no huddles, no yelling coaches, just lots of French fries, hand slapping and visiting among teams. ...

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Play Ball
From 2005 to 2007, "Play Ball" examined the relationship of sports and faith: sports is important precisely because it is a form of play, that is, a manifestation of the Sabbath. Contributors included Mark Galli, Collin Hansen, Mark Moring, and others.
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