As a youngster, Kenny Altman didn't choose the bright lights of football, basketball or baseball as his sporting pursuit.
Instead, he followed in his family's footsteps, drawn to the dimly lit environment of the local bowling alley.
That decision allowed him to take center stage Tuesday as one of 12 seniors recognized during Senior Day festivities for the Free State High bowling team.
"For a lot of us, it's probably the biggest day of the year as far as recognition goes, except for graduation," Altman said. "And this is a little more direct. For me, it's really big."
Unfortunately for Altman and his teammates, they couldn't cap their day of accolades with a notch in the win column. The Free State boys toppled 2,131 pins to finish behind Olathe North (2,301) and Olathe East (2,233) in the three-team meet at Royal Crest Lanes. The Free State girls settled for second, their 1,808 pins just 18 shy of Olathe North (1,826) on the final leaderboard.
While the final standing might seem a bit of a surprise for the Free State boys - considered a lock for this year's state tournament, which will take place in their home alley the first Saturday in March - the circumstances of the afternoon had a significant impact on the outcome.
With six seniors on the boys roster, Firebirds coach Anita Carlson listed that group as her varsity lineup, dropping two usual varsity participants - junior Tyler Kring and freshman Robert Wagner - to the JV. Add their Tuesday scores into the varsity mix, and Free State would have won the meet by 18 pins.
Altman led the varsity boys with a 625 series, finishing third on the individual ledger behind Olathe North's Brandon Engle (653) and Olathe East's Nguyen Troung (638).
"This was good. It was a good opportunity for the two seniors to come up," Carlson said. "And it was good for the girls."
True enough, while Carlson put little stock in the boys results given the one-time lineup shuffle, she was excited to see her sextet of senior girls rise to the occasion.
Free State's Ashleigh Armstrong posted the top individual score in the girls half of the meet with a 514 series - including a high game of 192 - while Melissa Burnside rolled the third-best series with a 497.
"It's really a big step ahead for our varsity girls," Carlson said. "Last year, we weren't even close most of the time. It's showing. It's really showing. ... They're showing some fire. They're wanting to win and they're getting aggressive."
Armstrong seconded that notion, and it has her excited about what lies ahead the next six weeks.
"We have improved insanely. I'm very happy with everyone," Armstrong said. "I think by the end of the season, girls varsity has the potential to really pull it up and hopefully send a couple of girls to state, if not the whole team."
Free State now must look forward to life on the road, with six of its seven remaining regular-season matches - save the city showdown against Lawrence High on Feb. 15 - taking place away from Royal Crest Lanes.
"We just have to show up and bowl," Altman said.