Photo by Bill Roseberry
Alton boys’ and girls’ bowling coach Jeff Woszczynski is all smiles as he shakes hands with Redbird senior bowler Eryka Graham and gives her a medal at the Alton Invitational at Airport Plaza Bowl in Bethalto in December 2015. Woszczynski recently announced his retirement as the bowling coach at AHS after 16 years with the girls and 14 years with the boys.
Jeff Woszczynski put the Alton High bowling program in the fast lane and kept the Redbirds rolling through the years.
Their success was no accident. You could pin it on their commitment and frame it around their enthusiasm.
“We did a lot of work with the kids and it showed,” the 54-year-old Woszczynski said.
After directing the girls for 16 years and the boys for 14, he announced his retirement as the dual AHS coach earlier this month.
He added, “It’s weird, but it’s almost like a relief in some ways because I don’t have all those responsibilities. But I still plan to work with those middle schoolers.”
That’s vintage Woszczysnki. He’s always working and striving to get the best out of bowlers, even if he’s officially retired as the Redbirds’ coach. Coaching bowling, just like coaching soccer as he did previously at East Alton-Wood River High, is a passion.
“If you are going to put a program together, you need to do it year-round,” he said. “For some coaches, when the season is over, you are done. That’s not me.”
Yet Woszczynski is done leading the Redbirds in Southwestern Conference bowling. He is free to do other things, including watching prep sports.
“My youngest son, Nolan, is a sophomore and he’s wrestling,” Woszczynski said. “I want to watch him wrestle the next two years.”
Wrestling, like bowling, is a winter sport, so Woszczynski, who works at a power plant in Wood River, had to make a choice. You could say he finished with a flourish, especially on the girls’ side.
They went 10-2 to claim the SWC championship and closed with a 12-2 dual mark. The Redbirds also placed second in the Collinsville Regional and top bowler Eryka Graham won the individual title. Teammate Ashley Heistand qualified for state and took 28th in the IHSA finals at Rockford.
Overall, the girls and boys both won more than 100 matches during Woszczynski’s time. Whitney Cox emerged as girls’ state champion in 2001 to mark one of the highlights of his career.
“That was great because Whitney was really zoned in at state,” he said. “The team also won the sectional and qualified for state.”
Ashley Cox finished fourth in 2002-03 and helped another AHS team go to state. They also advanced to Rockford in 2005 and 2014 and the Redbirds amassed 109 victories from 2001-2016.
The boys have had seven bowlers bust into the top 12 places at state, including Lucas Pejakovich, seventh in 2014 and ninth in 2015. Jason Krankel’s fourth-place showing in 2003 was best for them.
Alton has advanced to state nine times since 2003. The Redbirds finished fifth in 2003 and 2009, sixth in 2007 and 2012, plus seventh in 2014. They won 112 under Woszczynski’s tutelage.
“One year that really sticks out for the guys is 2006-07,” Woszczynski said. “It was a strange year, but everything started clicking at the right time and that group went to state. They started a run for us.”
Director of athletics Jeff Alderman said he appreciates Woszczynski’s contributions to AHS in general and bowling in particular.
“He has done a great job with bowling and it’s our strongest program,” Alderman said. “You can see how it has grown through the years. Jeff is definitely the reason it has been so successful.”
Alderman added, “He’s a straight shooter and honest with the kids. In my mind, that’s the epitome of a great coach. They have responded to him.”
Woszczynski said, “What I really love the most about coaching is to see the progress the kids make.”
He quipped, “With kids, you can expect the unexpected.”
His love affair with bowling isn’t an unexpected fling. Woszczynski grew up on the south side of Chicago and bowled for Chicago Washington of the Public High League. He’s an unabashed White Sox fan, and played baseball and soccer at Washington High.
Woszczynski spent 10 years coaching soccer, including serving as the EA-WR head coach from 1992-96. Then bowling called and Woszczynski answered. He put his stamp on the AHS program, one of the school’s most consistent ones.
“What I’ll miss the most is working with the kids,” he said. “I’ve always liked doing that. And I think the boys and girls worked well together. They’d practice together and have the same type of drills. They were all teammates.”
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