The largest area contingent in the short history of Ohio prep tournament bowling will be taking part Saturday in the Division II East/Southeast District event at Sunset Strikes in Zanesville.
Participants representing the six local schools that offer the sport will hit the lanes starting at 1 p.m. At stake are bids to next week's state tournament at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl in the state capital next weekend.
Two boys' teams and two girls' teams will qualify for the state tournament, along with two boys and two girls not on qualifying squads.
For Gary Holubeck, the proprietor of St. Clair Lanes in St. Clairsville and the head coach of the St. John High School teams, it's a watershed moment for local prep bowling.
''We've always been competitive with the bigger schools, but just couldn't get over that last hurdle,'' he said. ''We have a lot of young bowlers in the valley and they decided this was the year they were going to put some pressure on the bigger schools and they did.''
St. Clairsville, Martins Ferry and St. John will have boys' teams in the district field, along with Bridgeport's girls.
Participating as individuals will be Buckeye Local's Taylor Dagrava and Kacey Toto, Bridgeport's Austin Bennett and Jeff Tennant, and Union Local's Travis Pinkston.
A handful of OVAC schools up and down the Ohio River started club teams nearly 10 years ago long before the Ohio High School Athletic Association sanctioned the sport. So, many schools have experience at fielding teams. Still, Holubeck said, cultivating quality bowlers is a process.
''You just can't throw shoes on a freshman and ask them to average 200,'' he said. ''It's not that easy. You need to teach them.''
All the hard work has finally paid off, with most of the participating schools making history Saturday.
''We're very pleased,'' St. Clairsville head coach Mike Heath said. ''There's no such thing as an easy 14-1 league season. Every match is a true battle.
''I have kids that are hearty and stand up to adversity and get the job done when they need to.''
Seniors Josh Yeager and Nate Heath lead the Red Devils. Yeager fired a 652 last week in sectionals, good enough for fourth place. Nate Heath finished 13th overall.
''(Josh and my son are the ones that got me into this four years ago,'' Mike Heath said. ''Just to watch them go from freshmen shooting in the 50s to averaging in the 200s this year is very special for me.
''It's been a magical year.''
DJ Milligan, Anthony Kolakowski and Zack Dopkiss also compete for the Red Devils.
Martins Ferry, which finished third last week and is coached by John Josefczyk, is paced by Trevor Burch. Also competing for the Purple Riders are Codey Morrison, Corey Morrison, Mackenzie Ewing and Logan Miller.
Garrett Holubeck guides the Irish. He fired a 666 at sectionals.
St. John edged Minerva by 23 points to grab the final team berth.
Aaron Ebbert, Bryce Ramsay, Frank DePalma and Zach Schnegg round out the Irish roster. Ebbert had a 602 last week.
''That was the first 600 series he'd bowled in his life,'' Holubeck said.
Bridgeport's girls earned the final team spot at last week's sectional by edging Sandy Valley. Leading the way for the Bulldogs was Peyton Stewart, who finished third overall with a 607.
''Peyton is certainly one of our stronger bowlers,'' Bridgeport head coach Tyler Guilliams said. ''All of the girls have come a long way from where they were at last year.''
The remainder of the Bulldogs team consists of Alexis Williams, Cassidy Hixenbaugh, Bailee Johnson and Amanda Barath.
Gary Holubeck said the message is simple for all the local teams.
''Just bowl your game and don't worry about the other schools,'' he said. ''Hit the pins and see where they fall.''