Consultant John Neral says the In-School Bowling program is probably the best-kept secret in bowling.
"It's a fantastic way to get youngsters interested in bowling and yet it's been ignored by many of the people that would benefit from it the most," he said.
Neral, originally from Point Pleasant, N.J., resides in Cockeysville and does a lot of traveling.
"The territory I cover is Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area," the former school teacher said. "My position with the In-School program is part time but I'm available to [all] counties in Maryland if they need me to help them get started."
He's one of 14 consultants nationwide. The program began in 1986, and the organizations supporting it are the backbone of tenpin bowling: the Young American Bowling Alliance, the Women's International Bowling Congress, the American Bowling Congress, the National Bowling Council and the Bowling Proprietors Association of America.
It's endorsed by the United States Tenpin Bowling Federation and the Canadian Tenpin Federation Inc.
Headquartered in Greendale, Wis., the purpose of the In-School Bowling program is to introduce students to bowling at an early age with the expectation that they will enjoy the experience and join a YABA league as a sanctioned bowler.
Through free educational material and simulated bowling equipment, students across the country are being introduced to the lifetime sport of bowling.
"I started bowling when I was 5," Neral said. "My eyesight wasn't up to par for a lot of other sports but I could compete on the lanes."
He's still competing. Bowling in the Wednesday Chesapeake men's league at Fair Lanes Towson and subbing on a regular basis at Country Club lanes, he carries an average exceeding 200. Last month he posted a 300 game.
What exactly does Neral do as a consultant? He acts as a liaison between educators, proprietors, bowling councils and associations.
The program consists of printed material, videos and a bowling kit. The kit consists of specially designed carpets that simulate bowling lanes [the carpets have all the markings of real lanes -- arrows, dots, foul line and pin deck], a set of weighted plastic pins (the exact size and shape of tenpins), a 4-pound rubber/plastic bowling ball with several sets of finger and thumb holes drilled so that youngsters of different ages use the same ball.
The videotapes are designed to help teachers and students learn the rules, etiquette and techniques of the game, and a resource manual contains elementary and junior high lesson plans, activity sheets and a supplemental math unit.
"After a meeting with the Baltimore County Department of Physical Education on Friday, Feb. 4, it appears that there is an excellent chance that the In-School Bowling Program will be offered in the system sometime in the future," Neral said.
The program not only develops physical skills but also promotes positive interaction between players of wide-ranging abilities, improves hand/eye coordination, requires the discipline of a team sport, develops academic skills, encourages leadership skills, offers nonjudgmental scoring and introduces a lifetime experience.
And, as Neral pointed out, "There are no benchwarmers in bowling.
"I'm ready to help anyone get started with the program," Neral said. "Just give me a call:  628-6128."
The Free State Classic will be conducted at Bowl America Odenton Saturday and next Sunday. Squad times are 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:40 p.m. both days with a first-place prize of $800.
Brian McConnell of Reisterstown won the last Free State tournament at County Lanes, Westminster on Jan. 16.