If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
Please enter your email and we will send your username and password to you.
By Mark Jurgena
Collinsville High School boys and girls bowling coach Sean Hay has overseen 44 seasons during his 22 years on the lanes for the Kahoks.
His teams have won 12 regionals, 15 sectionals, qualified for state 31 times, and have five state trophies – including the 2009-10 girls state title – to their credit.
And now Hay is headed to the Southern Illinois High School Bowling Conference Hall of Fame thanks in part to that success.
Not bad for a kid who for a time had to wear leg braces.
“I grew up a bowling alley rat because my mom was an assistant manager when I was really young, like five, six years old,” said Hay. “When I was really young I had Legg-Perthes Disease. It’s a hip problem and when I was really young I had to wear leg braces. I had to wear a bar between my legs (too) so my bowling style was definitely unique but I was able to still participate.
“I had to stop participating in soccer like all the other kids in Granite City (were doing) but bowling was something I could do.”
That access to participation led him to leagues in high school while at Alton Marquette and eventually to the club team at Eastern Illinois University. He bowled four years with the squad, served as player/coach his senior year, and was the head coach while finishing his student teaching the following year.
After college, he landed a job teaching science at East Alton-Wood River High School where he continued his active participation in bowling. By his own admittance, he has rolled “18 or 19” perfect games in his life, but in typical fashion, he downplayed the accomplishment.
“I’m super happy to have done it,” said Hay. “But I’ve bowled with people who have 30, 40, or 50 of them. Some people have taken the game more seriously for themselves. I’ve poured my heart into the coaching part of it.”
While at EAWR he was offered the coaching job at Collinsville High for the 2000-01 season. Since that time his commitment to instruction and motivation has led to tremendous success for the purple and white and for the athletes he coaches both on the lanes and off. And more importantly, after they graduate.
Not an interview goes by where Hay isn’t talking about how his players or team is learning something for the future from some type of adversity.
“I think it’s an awesome opportunity for me to help young kids figure out how to take adversity and become successful with it,” he said about his approach to coaching.
His philosophy was shaped by the early struggles of his life.
“That’s where the whole thought process of this is truly a sport for everyone started,” began Hay. “You may not always be the elite but you can go and make improvements for yourself and that’s one of the main reasons I coach bowling.”
Not surprisingly, Hay – who now teaches Biology at Collinsville High School – believes the most memorable moments in his career have come from helping his teams overcome struggles.
In the 2002-03 season, his boys team had lost their highest average bowler but still figured out a way to take third place at the inaugural IHSA State Boys Bowling Finals.
While the squad finished well behind state champion Rockford (Jefferson) and runners-up Freeport, the Kahoks were able to take third by the narrowest of margins.
They beat Oak Lawn (Community) by two pins, Alton by three pins, and sixth place finisher Edwardsville by 11 pins.
“To be a trophy team and watch our anchor Dan Sweet struggle pretty much with day two, he was just not himself,” began Hay. “He was still in the 190s, 2-0s but he was not doing what he was capable of, he just was having carrying issues. We got down to that last game and he gave us three (strikes). We needed three and he gave us three. That was an awesome moment.”
On the girls side he believes the most memorable moment wasn’t the 2009-10 state championship team although he acknowledged the tremendous impact of that title on his career.
Instead, it was the 2005-06 team that took second place at state. It was the first state trophy for the girls.
That team was not necessarily in line for that level of success. They finished second in conference play and in the sectional behind a strong Belleville East team that ended up in fourth place at state.
Those Kahoks had only one senior on the roster at The Cherry Bowl in Rockford. Another senior couldn’t compete at state due to illness.
“East was an amazing girls team but we were able to stay competitive and stay ahead of them,” said Hay. “I guess the firsts are always the sweetest I think.”
Perhaps his most successful team was one that took home zero hardware from the postseason.
The 2020-21 squad went undefeated, completely undefeated. They didn’t lose a match or a tournament at either the varsity or the JV level.
But they never got the chance to compete for a state title. The IHSA did not host any type of postseason in many sports including girls bowling thanks to the COVID-19-related shutdowns that affected everyone
But those shutdowns were simply another hurdle for that team to overcome.
“Watching those girls during their freshman year throwing (using) equipment that was very light and just working and working and working and not letting that be a detriment to where by the time they got to their senior year they got to the position they could really compete,” said Hay. “They were competitive before but they were dominant that senior year.”
All the seniors on that team and the juniors after them went on to bowl in college.
That commitment by his bowlers beyond high school isn’t surprising. Hay continues to bowl in recreational leagues on Tuesday nights.
While those leagues may not be at an elite level, the game has always meant so much more to him.
“Bowling offers me a way to spend time with both my sons and my friends,” he said. “I get to experience not only my achievements but theirs as well. It’s even more gratifying to compete with and against the people I coached and coached against. As a teacher students move on and you don’t always get to find out where they end up. As a coach in bowling, I get to see them be successful in both the game and in life.”