For most teenagers, the value of the expression ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ usually goes in one ear and out the other. But for Tanner Orebaugh, it went straight to his heart.
The only job the Covenant Christian senior has ever had has a lot to do with the only job he’ll ever want. Orebaugh works part-time at Western Bowl and at around 5 p.m. each day, he puts on his bowling shoes and hits a lane to perfect his craft.
There he spends his evenings every day of the week, practicing and preparing. The ball glides smoothly across the glossy lane crashing into the pins as he records another strike and it happens so much it’s become second nature, like he has been doing it forever. But the truth is, Orebaugh had never bowled before his seventh-grade year. It didn’t take long to figure out he had found his niche and for the last five years he has flourished.
“I like bowling because I can put myself in the game,” Orebaugh said. “You’re not relying on other people; other players or coaches. When I’m bowling, I can be myself, talk to myself, no one else is getting into my head. Its self-determination and I get to do my own thing.”
Orebaugh began his high school days at nearby Ben Davis before transferring to Covenant Christian his sophomore year where he played basketball for two seasons. Heading into his senior season, though, he chose to bowl on a high school team for the first time since his freshman year at Ben Davis.
There are more than 2,000 Indiana high schools, each with a vast variety of individuals, Orebaugh included.
While it’s not easy blazing your own trail, Orebaugh may be the exception as he is his own man, and a simple one at that. When he isn’t working on maintaining his 2.9 GPA studying his core 40 classes, he’s either at work, hanging out with his family, or, in the warmer months, mowing lawns around his neighborhood to help out his elders.
On match-nights, Orebaugh isn’t “turning up” or “getting hype.” In fact, it’s the opposite, he tries to wind down. On the way to the bowling alley, he’s listening to John Legend or the Temptations, talking to his self, and relaxing.
Walking up to the line each frame, it’s no different. Orebaugh is calm, cool and collected and that’s why he’s averaging a 224 this season.
“I try to go slow and take my time,” he said. “I usually talk to myself, tell myself to take my time and take deep breaths, relax myself and I throw it. I try to do same thing every time.
“I go up there and throw the best ball I can and if I have a bad ball, I can’t go back and be mad at myself because I threw the best ball that I could.”
On Dec. 9, Orebaugh bowled a 300 against his former school, Ben Davis. It was his third 300 over a three-week span as two came in league play while the last one came at the school meet. It’s rare, none the less.
In the first game he was close, going 10 frames with a strike before he split the 11th frame. In the second game, it was a moment that vindicated his hard work, dedication and decision to bowl this final year.
“Usually went you hit your front nine strikes, you draw a crowd over,” Orebaugh said. “Everyone was in the lane during the 10th frame (and) when I threw that 12th strike, everyone jumped on me. I couldn’t breathe for a second, it kind of felt like the Indiana shot (Christian Watford’s buzzer-beater over Kentucky two years ago) in the Kentucky game. It was great, there’s really nothing like it. Knowing you can satisfy that many people. My teammates were really happy.”
For his father, and head bowling coach Jack Orebaugh, big moments like that aren’t as surprising as he’s come to expect great moments from his son. When Tanner chose to bowl, success wasn’t immediate but the young man Jack has been raising never left any doubt that whatever his son decided to do, he was going to do it well.
“He has always been a grounded kid,” Jack said. “He never thinks he’s better than the next one. When he picked up his first bowling ball and rolled it, I thought ‘what are we doing here?’ but he sticks with whatever he pursues. I was very fortunate he chose to bowl and I’m proud of what he’s accomplished in such a short time bowling.”
It’s safe to say the Covenant Christian bowling team feels the same way.
The start-up program just a few years old was the doormat of central Indiana bowling meets at one point. The 2A school had a hard time with bigger 5A schools in the central Indiana area. Tanner’s addition to the team gave the squad a boost, but the progression in itself over the last three years made this season a lot more special for both father and son.
“When we started we were the bottom team,” Jack said. “A 2A school playing 5A big guys, we were everybody’s doormat. But these kids are resilient. All the negative things bounced off of them. They lost their first meet by 300 pins (and) we keep records so we can show kids what they have accomplished. I’ve always known Tanner has been a good bowler. I told my wife when he wasn’t around the team, if he decided to bowl he would be the guy. I’m just so happy he chose to bowl his final year of high school.”
But that’s not where this journey will end.
Tanner plans to attend IUPUI next fall and whether he will bowl collegiately is still a debate, however, he has no doubts about his plans to make the most out of his talents. Tanner is planning on pursuing a pro bowling career which in some instances pays winners upwards of $500,000.
“You don’t have to bowl in college to go pro,” he said. “It’s a big idea in my mind to go pro so the plan is to keep practicing and work on qualifying for big tournaments. I’ll have to keep a certain average for a year and then see where it goes from there.
“You can’t play basketball until you’re 57 years old. Football and other physical sports can only last so long until you have to stop playing. Bowling — that’s something you can do forever. You can bowl as an old man so I’ll never stop playing.”