Devon Sipes/ The Sunflower
Ryan Barnes hadn’t bowled competitively since he was 12 – even though both of his parents were professional bowlers. The emergence of COVID-19 made him give bowling a shot.
Barnes played basketball throughout high school and was looking to play Division-II or Division-III basketball but the pandemic made it more difficult to visit schools. Barnes’ father, Chris, similarly played basketball in high school before starting his bowling career.
“I was a basketball player and I could’ve gone to a D-II or D-III and grinded out a couple years,” Ryan said. “My dad said ‘why don’t you give this a shot?’ And that’s kind of how it started.”
Ryan continued to work and found a passion for the sport, much like his parents. Chris is actively competing on the PBA Tour and his wife, Lynda, is a former member of the PWBA. When it came time to choose a school, Ryan decided to bowl for his father’s alma mater, Wichita State.
“The bowling environment at Wichita State, that’s Duke, Kentucky for the basketball comparison,” Chris said. “If you want to be a professional then that’s where you go.”
With Ryan’s limited experience, he was placed on the junior varsity team during his freshman season with WSU. That season allowed him to continue to practice and put his hard work into game action.
“I think it gave him a chance to get in a lot more games perhaps than he would’ve if he was on the varsity team at that time,” men’s bowling coach Rick Steelsmith said. “He wasn’t quite ready for that either. That helped a lot for the practice that he had been putting in, being able to take that and put it in the competition setting.”
Barnes earned a spot on the varsity team this season. His hard work in adapting to a new sport has paid off, winning two tournament MVPs, including sealing a win in Las Vegas.
Steelsmith said that during his coaching career he hasn’t seen an athlete develop as quickly as Barnes has.
“I never would’ve guessed how fast his learning curve actually ended up being and he puts in a lot of work and works really, really hard,” Steelsmith said. “Personally, I don’t know if I’ve seen anybody make as much progress as he’s made in two years.”
Ryan also qualified for junior Team USA after finishing in 18th place at his first Team USA Trials in January. Chris has won 19 PBA titles over his career, but seeing his son earn a spot on Team WSU was more enjoyable than any of his individual accomplishments.
“The Junior Team USA moment, I might’ve been happier for him than anything that I’ve done myself,” Chris said. “It was surreal.”
Both of Ryan’s parents are proud of how quickly he has improved in the sport of bowling. Lynda and Chris have helped Ryan with any advice throughout this journey, with their professional bowling backgrounds.
Lynda, who majored in psychology in college, has helped with the mental side of the game, while Chris helps more with the technical side.
“I’m proud of him on a lot of different levels,” Chris said. “One, how dedicated he’s been in the pursuit of getting much better and how willing he’s been to take coaching from coach Steelsmith, from his teammates and even from us.”
Chris and Lynda said they believe that Ryan can take this bowling journey as far as he wants to – even following in their footsteps and going pro.
“I think he could do whatever he puts his mind to,” Lynda said. “I think most parents would tell you that. He really has an amazing work ethic. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done as bowlers. What he does, what he chooses to do, he’ll work the extra five minutes, he’ll stay and figure it out.
“I think as far his goals go, it’ll be whatever he decides. If he wants to be a PBA Champion, I definitely think he’ll get there.”