Due to the rising costs of higher education, students take advantage of as many funding opportunities as possible. One Tribal member from Topeka, Kansas, used her bowling skills to obtain an athletic scholarship at Ottawa University.

Though better known in athletic circles for its highly competitive Division I basketball programs, Kansas has a deep bowling history. The state regularly hosts collegiate and professional bowling events. Makaila Cowdin first became involved in the sport through the area’s popular amateur leagues for young and old bowlers.

Makaila Cowdin competes during a recent meet for Ottawa University.

The idea to compete came from her participation with the school band. When she was a freshman at Topeka West High School, a fellow musician encouraged her to try out for the bowling team. Her band’s section leader was on the squad and told Cowdin she might enjoy it.

“I was hesitant at first because I had never bowled competitively,” Cowdin said. “I knew my mom’s side of the family bowled their entire lives. I decided that I would try out, so I asked my grandfather if he would help me learn.”
Cowdin and her grandfather practiced for two weeks before team tryouts. The Peltier family descendant said that despite her previous experience, it was a long climb.

“My first game at the beginning of the two weeks was a solid 16,” she recalled.

With her grandfather’s guidance and encouragement, she progressed. Cowdin made the junior varsity team after putting in a good performance during the tryout. She thinks she also received some consideration thanks to her family background.

“My coaches knew I never bowled before and would need to work hard in order to get better. They found out that my grandmother was the best senior bowler in our town and automatically knew I had a lot of potential because bowling was in my blood,” Cowdin said.

The coaches’ hunch — coupled with her dedication — turned out to be correct. She quickly progressed to the varsity squad. Throughout her high school career, she never lost her spot and helped capture the Class 5A state championship. It was the first state championship for Topeka West High School, and Cowdin finished the season ranked 13 in the state as an individual bowler.

Wanting to continue her career, Cowdin accepted a scholarship to Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas. The college freshman competes with the Lady Braves team regularly. The recommendation from her bandmate all those years ago paid off.

“Bowling has given me so many wonderful opportunities,” Cowdin said. “I feel like my life right now would be a lot different if it hadn’t been for my section leader in band talking me into trying bowling my freshman year.”

Though the sport can seem a solitary pursuit, Cowdin enjoys the team aspects she has learned at Topeka West and Ottawa University, saying, “In my opinion, it is so much better than bowling individually.”

“I have seen the team aspect come out way more now that I have started bowling at the collegiate level,” she elaborated.

The fact that she is not alone in the competition is an endearing feeling for Cowdin.

“I always know that my teammates have my back, and I can count on them to help me out when I’m struggling, no matter if it’s on the lanes or off,” she said. “I have met some of my best friends while bowling and am so grateful for each of them.”

The support provided by the team’s structure and camaraderie helped with the transition that many college freshman face when being independent and away from home for the first time. Cowdin is majoring in biology with an emphasis on pre-med studies. Her long-term goal is to attend medical school at the University of Kansas and become a pediatrician.

“I would like to have my own practice once I get further in my career,” she said.

The future is not far off, and Cowdin will remain an avid bowler when her collegiate career ends. The passion for the sport is embedded in her, like it was in the grandparents who taught her.