Wichita State’s new bowlers hear the “Flower Garden” talk to start the school year. Ryan Kendall heard, but didn’t understand as a freshman.
The experienced bowlers advise the freshmen on study habits, relationships with professors and how to organize their time.
“At first, I was like ‘Some people need that and some people don’t,’ and I was one of those people who don’t,” Kendall said. “By the time finals came around, I was so stressed and in such need of all that advice again.”
Fortunately, notes are available.
Four years later, Kendall is a three-time Academic All-American (3.5 grade-point average or better) and a member of the Shockers Selected Team that competes in the United States Bowling Congress Intercollegiate Team Championships that begin on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.
The Flower Garden talk paid off for him. Starting with second semester of his freshman year, he organized his life in a daily planner. He did assignments when assigned, as the upperclassmen recommended, to provide time for revisions and questions.
“Getting a planner was definitely good advice,” he said. “I always keep my class notes and homework. I put it all in this bin at home, all of my college classes. Notes, homework, tests, everything I kept in this box. When I’m done with all that, I look through the agenda and I go page by page, looking at all the things crossed off, and it’s so satisfying.”
Kendall, a senior from Pelham, Alabama, is a computer science major who took the long route to Wichita State’s Selected Team, the top level of competition. He didn’t make the team as a freshman and spent the past two seasons on the Developmental Team. Wichita State coach Gordon Vadakin estimates around 10 percent of the bowlers who don’t make the team in their early years continue to try out for a spot on the Selected Team.
“He has a lot of fight in him,” Wichita State coach Gordon Vadakin said. “That’s the kind of story that excites me tremendously, when we see kids that came in at a certain level but just work their way onto the team. He’s been an inspirational kind of guy.”
Kendall improved physically, getting smoother and more consistent with his arm swing. His growing confidence and focus is an even bigger part of the story.
“To not only stay in engineering, but excel in engineering is impressive,” Vadakin said. “You’ve got to have great structure in your schedule to do what you’re doing. He is a busy guy who gets a lot done because he’s busy.”
Wichita State coaches, backed by their 20 national titles, tell new bowlers that those who follow the plan will succeed, even after some difficult times. The Flower Garden talk, a Vadakin tradition, is one of those lessons. "Flowers" invest in the program and bloom. "Weeds" are a drag on teamwork. "Dandelions" are in between, looking like part of the program without helping as much as possible.
"It's a metaphor for leadership," Vadakin said. "The flowers are the believers. They're the one that believe in the organization. That's our goal. It's not really to get rid of all the weeds. It's better creating more leaders, growing more flowers. Moving people from dandelions to flowers."
Kendall remembers the shock of freshman year when he struggled to compete against talented bowlers from around the world.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned through the program is self-motivation and dedication, really what it means to be in pursuit of something big,” he said. “I came here being the best youth bowler in Alabama. I thought I was really good. Coming here and getting third from last during tryouts was kind of eye-opening.”
He saw Shocker bowlers, such as Team USA member Wesley Low who competed internationally and wanted to chase that goal, even if it took years. Over those years, he learned to get past a bad moment and not let it snowball.
“Mentally, I’m so much stronger than I was when I got here,” Kendall said. “I didn’t even know bowling was a mental game before I got here. Now, it’s 90 percent of my game. Short-term memory.”
Kendall is considering several paths for his future. He could return to Wichita State, start graduate school, and bowl another season. He said he interviewed with companies such as Google and Twitter for software engineering positions. His bowling coach in Alabama offered him a coaching job.