Christie Hughes wants the best for her bowlers. The Newton bowling coach and second grade teacher at Emerson Hough Elementary School spends her days teaching students until the dismissal bell rings, and she spends her nights running the family business at Cardinal Lanes, the local bowling alley.
Which not only prospers as a recreational facility for the community but also as the main hub for Newton bowlers to hone their skills.
Newton Cardinals have top recognition to prove it, too. The girls team has made appearances at state competitions the past three years, including a second place finish in 2022 and a third place finish in 2023. Several members of the girls team have also made it to state on an individual level, too.
The boys team also recently made its first appearance to state since 2014. Hughes says one member of the boys team also performed well as an individual in state competition. All of the teams’ accomplishments are posted on the west wall of Cardinal Lanes. Trophies are posted behind glass cases.
Cardinal Lanes is as much a part of the team as the students and coach. Hughes hopes the facility has allowed her athletes to thrive and grow. All signs point to yes. Some of the high school students work or volunteer at the bowling alley while others are spending countless hours in Cardinal Lanes, outside of practices.
“They’ll be here through the summer sometimes,” she says. “It’s the environment itself that’s been here for them to utilize. We try to stay open as many hours as possible so that they can practice. Sometimes it’s hard because we have leagues in the way of some of that. Because I do own the center they get a lot more practice.”
The Hughes family has owned the bowling alley since July 2020. Every year the family has added new features or made upgrades to the facility that not only benefit the regular, day-to-day customers and league players, but also her athletes who keep scoring high marks at competitions.
Some bowling teams in Iowa only have one day a week to practice. Hughes says the Cardinals are blessed in that they have four to five days a week to practice.
“These kids are in here all the time,” Hughes says, noting it makes her happy as a coach to see her athletes want to better themselves and their team. “As a coach, I hope that I’m a mentor for them. As a business owner, it’s awesome to see them in here and wanting to be here.”
Hughes has been the high school bowling coach for the past seven years after starting out as the assistant coach to Seth Banwell, who has since returned to be her assistant coach. Hughes coaches both the girls and boys teams. In the past two years, the sport has expanded to include a middle school bowling program.
Although the middle school program is not affiliated with the Newton school district, it still provides early exposure to students who might be interested in joining the high school team in the future. Hughes says 17 kids in grades five through eight participated in the program through Cardinal Lanes.
“A lot of them you’ll want to keep your eye on in the next couple of years,” Hughes says with a smile. “It’ll be so great to see. It’s an interesting aspect for me to be apart of, too. Last year I did not head that up. Someone else did that for me. But this year I took a little more of a hands-on approach to it.”
Three of her high school bowlers who also work at Cardinal Lanes helped coach the middle schoolers.
“Last year we started a tournament right at the end. Because it was such a new program we started a Baker Doubles tournament where we paired up a middle schooler with a high schooler,” Hughes says. “It was so much fun the high schoolers asked if they could do that again this year.”
Kids are excited to bowl in Newton. As a business owner whose family members are huge bowling enthusiasts, Hughes is thrilled to see students get involved in the sport and she hopes it carries on well into adulthood. To this day there are still people in their 70s and 80s who regularly play in leagues.
“If that’s something they can continue to do the rest of their lives, we’re excited we’re able to at least be the beginning of that,” Hughes says.
But what Hughes loves most about being a coach for Newton Cardinals is creating and fostering relationships with her student-athletes, and then seeing the impact it has on others. She recalled an experience where a high schooler was teamed up with a middle school student in the doubles tournament.
“He was able to tell a middle schooler how to do something and that middle schooler did it successfully,” Hughes says. “The expression that was on his face. I looked at him and said, ‘It’s a cool feeling isn’t it?’ He said it was amazing. And it is. It is amazing. It makes you feel so good you’ve had that impact on somebody.”