Mike Imes bowled competitively in the Air Force, is the current the Youth Program Director at St. Clair Bowl in O’Fallon and is the longtime Commissioner of the Southern Illinois High School Bowling Conference.
But he says he had a lot to learn about coaching when he took over the O’Fallon High School program prior to the 2002-03 season.
“It was an adjustment. I was still a fairly new coach and still learning. You are always learning,” Imes said. “We were getting bowlers of all levels. I think (we) were more interested in getting numbers for teams than we were about getting quality.
“But as the years went on, we started doing different things. We started doing different drills, and I became smarter about equipment. I became a better coach.”
There are now close to 50 schools with bowling teams in Southern Illinois, and the quality of bowler increases with each season.
O’Fallon continues to set the pace.
One week removed from winning the Mount Vernon sectional, the Panthers will compete for the ninth consecutive year at the IHSA State Boys Bowling Tournament, which begins Friday on their home lanes at St. Clair Bowl in Fairview Heights.
We’ve got three third-place banners hanging in the gym, and we were second a few years back as well. It would be nice to win it.
Defending state champion Machesney Park Harlem and 2017 state runner-up Rockton Hononegah headline the 24-team field, which also includes Collinsville, Belleville East, Freeburg, Columbia and Alton.
But no team from the metro-east can match the Panthers’ success at state over the past five years.
O’Fallon has placed in the top five each year since 2013. The Panthers were second in 2013 and placed third in 2014, 2016 and 2017.
“I think at some schools, when the season is finished, kids put their bowling balls away until it’s time to get them out the next fall,” Imes said. “With us, when we finish our season this weekend, it won’t be more than a few days when I’ll have one or more of the bowlers come up and ask when we’ll start practice for next season.
“We have great competition within this program. I’ve got very good bowlers on this team, but there are more waiting in the wings waiting for their chance to prove themselves.”
Imes learned early in his coaching career how vital drilling to perfect the fundamentals can be.
“We don’t bowl for scores often during practice, and when we do, it’s after we do drills,” he said. “If you don’t have the fundamentals down, then you aren’t going to be able to react when the lane conditions dry out and break down. We spend a lot of time on release drills and target drills.”
When we finish our season this weekend, it won’t be more than a few days when I’ll have one or more of the bowlers come up and ask when we’ll start practice for next season.
O’Fallon bowling coach Mike Imes
When it’s time to keep score, Imes puts his Panthers against the stiffest competition he can find. An annual trip to Rockford not only gives his bowlers a look at many of those they’ll face at state, it forces them to do so as they adjust to lane conditions.
“This event is also held at a bowling center where the lanes dry out quickly,” he said. “If you don’t adjust to the lane conditions and move when you need to move, you’re going to really struggle. This sport is about making the proper adjustments to different lane conditions.”
Imes, who will turn 66 later this year, said his team will be in the hunt for the elusive state championship trophy.
“I think most coaches (think) Harlem, Hononegah and O’Fallon will be in the hunt on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “We’ve got three third-place banners hanging in the gym, and we were second a few years back as well. It would be nice to win it.”