Before COVID-19 struck down and cancelled sports at all levels, Tullahoma native Oliver Lawson was able to conclude his freshman season as part of the men’s bowling team at Tennessee Wesleyan University.
Lawson, a 2019 Tullahoma High School graduate, is currently just one of two bowlers from Tullahoma competing at the collegiate level. Elijah Manderson is the second, who competes at Florida State University.
During his senior season at Tullahoma, Lawson made things official and signed his official letter of intent to continue his career at Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens. He is currently enrolled as an engineering science major.
“I knew ever since I took my first visit there, Tennessee Wesleyan University just felt like home and that’s where I needed to be,” Lawson said. “So obviously I took the steps I needed to get there to sign last February, which was probably one of the biggest decisions I’ve made in my life. But I’ve been enjoying bowling there as well as my academics.”
Between competition and practice time, Lawson said he spends a tremendous amount of time on the lanes. According to the former Wildcat, the Bulldogs spend three days practicing as a team and then he additionally takes private lessons to try to improve.
“Basically on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays we practice there in Athens at Classic Lanes,” Lawson said. “Our allotted practice time is about an hour and a half to two hours.
“Then we have private lessons with our assistant coach, Aaron White, who is a PBA50 member. He’s honestly the best coach I’ve ever had. I’ve learned a lot under him and we practice in Cleveland, Tennessee with him on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Usually anywhere from 9:30 p.m. to midnight, sometimes later. It can get rough sometimes, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Even when he’s not practicing or competing, Lawson said he can still be immersed in the sport. Like a lot of collegiate athletes, he said he watches film in order to try to improve his game. He said that White has been instrumental in the film studies.
“A lot of times while we’re bowling, we are videoing and then we are looking at the video right then to see what tweaks we need to make,” Lawson said. “I want to see just how my hand is coming out of the ball and stuff like that. A lot of it is onsite learning, video watching and then replicating it when it comes to figuring out what I need to do. Coach Aaron has helped me significantly. I probably would not be where I’m at without him.”
All of that hard work payed off and at the end of his first year in Athens, Lawson was named to the Mid-South Conference Second Team in late February. In order to be nominated by an institution, a student athlete must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.25 on a 4.0 scale. The team is comprised of 36 student athletes.
Even after spending all the time out on the lanes, Lawson said he still makes academics his priority. In fact, when his team is traveling for tournaments, he said he is almost always glued to his books and is working on some school work.
“When we’re traveling a lot, I use my hotspot on my phone to connect to my laptop,” Lawson said. “So while we’re making these six- to eight-hour drives, to say Indianapolis on back-to-back weekends, I’m still able to connect to the internet to do papers and submit assignments. Then when we get there and we aren’t bowling, I’m in the hotel room doing homework. There’s no downtime. I’m either bowling, asleep, or doing homework.
“As far as being a student athlete goes, education is always first,” he added. “That’s what they push. That’s what I believe in. And as long as you’re doing academically well, you should be able to bowl just fine. But that goes for any sport as well. You shouldn’t be failing and still competing because then you’re going against what you’re going to the school for.”
Even in Athens, Lawson said he still keeps track of how the Tullahoma High School teams are doing. When he is home, he tries to make it to a match or a tournament to cheer on his alma mater.
“Without that program, I probably wouldn’t have ever started bowling,” Lawson said. “I know I started bowling in the sixth grade with the kids’ bowl free summer program that Tullahoma has. Without the high school bowling team, I probably don’t know where I’d be right now, honestly. That was a major influence of where I chose to go to college as well.”