LE MARS, Iowa | I met Gary Brady in August 2005 as he orchestrated a 160-pin salute at the funeral for Virgil Schramm, who, for 35 years, owned and operated Sweet 16 Lanes in Le Mars with his wife, Kay Schramm.
Schramm's funeral was held at the bowling alley, a service that concluded as Brady, who bought the business from Schramm one year earlier, dropped 10 pins in all 16 lanes.
Schramm got the last laugh, as pins on lane 4 were last to rack. Schramm, a mechanical wizard when it came to bowling, always sensed lane 4 had an independent streak at his beloved Sweet 16.
I've crossed paths with Brady a few times since, including a stop this winter as his Le Mars Bulldogs bowled in a regular season match. The site teemed with boys' and girls' teams in action. Parents, grandparents and friends watched the action unfold as players from opposing teams congratulated one another on spikes and spares.
The Bulldogs ended their season last week with the boys earning an eighth-place finish at the state tournament. The girls, on the other hand, took second behind Ottumwa in Class 2A. Lexi Schroeder, Brady's step-daughter, paced the local unit with a seventh-place individual effort.
Lexi Schroeder works in the kitchen at Sweet 16 Lanes in Le Mars, Iowa, when she's not competing for the Le Mars Bulldogs in bowling. Schroede…
"I've been with this ever since bowling was a club sport on the high school level," said Brady, noting it has likely been around 17 years. "Since it's been sanctioned as a high school sport in Iowa, the Le Mars boys have gotten second place in 2016 and our girls got second place this year."
Both teams finished fourth in the state one year ago.
"I've bowled ever since my stepdad bought the business," said Schroeder, a junior. "He always tells me to at least get spares and never let an open frame get you down."
Schroeder, apparently, didn't have many open frames in her two-game series at the state meet. She started with a 223 and finished with a 185, good for a 204 average.
According to Brady, there was scant little to separate the top 10 individuals in the girls' state meet. "Lexi needed one more mark per game," Brady said.
Schroeder bowls in the Tuesday afternoon league for youths at Sweet 16 Lanes. She works in the kitchen when she's not polishing her game, one that boasts of a 268-pin high. Her average this season came to 199. She aims to bowl at Morningside come 2019.
Schroeder said bowling continues to gain steam at the Lakes Conference school, a district whose board voted on Wednesday to join the Missouri River Activities Conference in the fall of 2019 (see sidebar).
"I think some people went out for bowling in the beginning just to mess around," she said. "But then they started to like it and began working at it."
Brady and co-coaches Kelly Bork and Gail Swanberg worked with 54 prep bowlers this year, down from a high of 60 participants in recent years.
"In a number of meets, our Le Mars junior varsity would be the second best team at the meet," said Brady, whose girls' team posted a 13-0 record this season.
The second-place Bulldogs girls' team graduates four of the top five keglers in Brooke Westhoff, Caitlynne Peters (first-team all-district performers with Schroeder) and second-team all-district honorees Steph Williams and Abby Whiddon.
"Lexi is coming back for her senior year, so we'll get to work," Brady said. "We have four different leagues for kids here, so we'll keep the next group (of students) going."
The girls, he concluded, missed out on a state title by what amounts to three spares. Maybe with a little extra work over the course of the upcoming year, his program can "fill" those frames and cart home a championship trophy.