It STarted With a K-Mart Paint Mixer
At an early meeting of the new Team USA coaching staff, Andy Diercks listened to the amazing qualifications of his new colleagues. Soon enough, it was his turn to share his journey into the world of competitive bowling.
“That might have been the most intimidating thing I’ve ever had to do. I came through a very different path. I didn’t throw my first 600 series [three games totaling at least 600 pins] until I was 21, and these guys were PBA titlists by the time they were 21.”
Andy’s start in the sport was, indeed, pretty humble. He first hurled a ball toward the pins in a four-lane alley in Alta, Iowa. These days, he is one of the most respected coaches in the sport – not locally, or regionally, but nationally and beyond.
With the steadfast support of his family, Andy has taken his own childhood passion for the sport and turned it into a career. He operates the pro shop at May City Bowl in Cedar Rapids, serves as the head coach for the Mount Mercy Mustang bowling teams, and recently returned from his first tournament as a member of the coaching staff for Team USA.
Nowadays in his well-equipped pro shop, Andy takes careful measurements of a bowler’s hand and drills a bowling ball in such a way that the competitor has the best opportunity to succeed on the lanes.
He didn’t have that advantage when he was starting out.
“My first ball was drilled by the paint mixer at K-Mart,” Andy says with a laugh over coffee in Marion.
Love in the Bowling Lane
His wife, Makala, is along, too, which is only appropriate given the role bowling has played in their lives. They’re an adorable couple – Andy tall and lanky, Makala short and elven. Both are witty and are quick to laugh. They answer my questions thoughtfully – reminding me of Andy’s coaching technique – but with a friendliness that I have never seen falter in any situation. Their love for each, and their love of bowling is always evident. And it’s in keeping with the origin of their relationship.
The two met in the bowling center in Cherokee, Iowa, when Andy’s family moved there when he was in fifth grade.
The center in Cherokee has 16 lanes. “That was big time,” Andy says.
He and Makala connected on the lanes. “We saw each other every Saturday morning,” he remembers. Eventually, they were teammates; during their sophomore year of high school, they started dating.
“And then we got married in that bowling center on lanes eight and nine,” Andy says.
Bowling wasn’t his profession yet, but the sport continued to play a big role in the Diercks’ life – “One of the deciding factors of whether I was going to accept the transfer [within the movie theater company for which he worked] was whether they had a bowling center in the place they wanted us to move.” – and it was a key part of their social life.
“That’s how we met people everywhere we went,” Makala says. “We’d just go join a league.”
Becoming a Pro
In 2000, while living in Indianola, Andy caught the eye of the bowling center manager while he was helping his young kids, Alex and Mekena, get the hang of bowling.
“He said, ‘Hey, would you like to be one of our coaches?’” Andy agreed, and went through the coaching certification program for Levels One and Two at the center’s expense. “That’s where the coaching side really started,” Andy says.
As the kids got older, the nighttime work of managing movie theaters became less appealing. Andy’s brother, Allen, worked at Carousel Motors in Iowa City and lived in Marion. Having always been close to his brother, Andy took a job at the dealership and moved his family to Marion.
Soon after, he was serving as a coach at the Cedar Rapids Bowling Center, and in 2006 he earned his Bronze Level certification from the United States Bowling Congress. This is when I – and more importantly, my son, Bryan, himself a burgeoning competitive bowler – first met Andy. His influence on my son’s bowling career cannot be overstated, as his thoughtful, knowledge-based approach to coaching was just what Bryan needed at the time. In fact, Andy was so inspirational as a coach, my son decided to pursue his own certification, earning Bronze coaching certification on his 16th birthday. Andy also steadfastly supported Bryan’s desire to bowl at Wichita State University, the premier collegiate bowling program in the country. Bryan is currently a member of the WSU developmental team (a squad that would be more than competitive with many a varsity team) with his eye on making the primary team in the future. Andy deserves a fair amount of the credit for Bryan’s ongoing success.
In fact, he deserves a fair amount of the credit for many young bowlers’ success. Andy became the head bowling coach at Linn-Mar High School in 2007 and turned the program around, leading them to three Mississippi Valley Conference titles and two regional titles – including an emotional win in 2011 just after his father passed away. He was named the Metro Coach of the Year three times and was the MVC Coach of the Year in 2013.
Addicted to Learning
Throughout his time at Linn-Mar, Andy gained knowledge he could share with his athletes.
“I just got addicted to learning more and more and surrounding myself with better coaches and better information.”
That commitment to better information has helped ground Andy’s coaching in the science that underpins the sport. While that science may not be evident to the casual bowler, at the competitive level there are many factors in play. A systematic approach is important to helping Andy’s bowlers improve, including those who don’t bowl in the traditional manner.
In 2008, he attended a conference in Chicago in the hopes of learning what he needed to help a two-handed bowler on his team.
“I had a bowler I didn’t want to ruin,” Andy remembers. Two-handed bowling was just entering the sport in earnest due to the arrival on the scene of Australian Jason Belmonte, a two-hander who may be the best – and most popular – bowler in the world today.
The class ended up being cancelled, but he met Coach Bryan O’Keefe – now the head coach for Junior Team USA – and over pizza, the coach had some advice for Andy.
“He said, ‘You are really sharp. You need to get Silver certification.’”
Which he did in 2009. “He was just absorbing everything about bowling,” Makala remembers. “It was about then that I said, ‘We need to figure out how you can do that full-time.’”
It didn’t happen right away, but he kept moving in the right direction. In 2011, he took three of his Linn-Mar bowlers to Omaha for a clinic put on by the International Art of Bowling organization (IAB). He signed up as a student, but Ron Hoppe, one of the most respected figures in the sport, quickly realized he was more than just a bowler looking to improve.
“Ron figured out very quickly that I was coach,” Andy says.
After talking with him a bit, Hoppe declared, “You’re not only a coach. You’re a good coach.”
“I can’t believe Ron Hoppe said that to me,” Andy says.
Hoppe’s partners in the IAB endeavor were top-flight bowlers Diandra Asbaty and the aforementioned Belmonte. When IAB came to Cedar Rapids for a clinic Andy had booked, Hoppe asked him to help coach. Afterward, he told his partners, “We gotta hire this guy.”
“Suddenly, he had two people on the pro tour he can just call up,” Makala says.
In 2012, Andy left Carousel Motors to pursue his work for IAB. In 2013, he became an assistant coach at Mount Mercy University. In his first year as an assistant, the men’s team made it to the Intercollegiate Team Championships – the national championship tournament — for the first time, finishing eighth.
“I think we surprised a lot of people,” Andy says.
He served as the interim head coach in 2014 and officially took over the reins of the Mustang program in 2015. In 2016, the women’s team made the ITC for the first time, finishing twelfth.
Andy acknowledges that he has work to do when it comes to attracting top players to his program. “We don’t necessarily have the number one players in the world knocking on our door.”
It Will Happen
“Goal number one is to have a program that develops players as good as any school in the country,” he says. “We will never be satisfied until we have Helmer Cups [the most coveted trophy in college bowling awarded to the winners of the ITC] in our trophy case. There would be no point in doing this if that wasn’t the goal. We need to be the kind of team that getting to the ITC is a given.”
To help achieve that goal, Andy just had a Specto system installed at May City. The advanced tracking apparatus records bowlers’ shots and provides detailed information on an app. Specto is another tool that will enhance Andy’s exceptional coaching.
A head coaching job with a competitive college program is a big deal, but at Makala’s insistence, Andy applied for an even loftier position – head coach of Junior Team USA. While he didn’t land the head coaching gig, he was hired as an assistant, joining an elite team of coaches and players.
With the addition of Team USA to his résumé, Andy — who has already been named one of the top 100 bowling coaches by Bowlers Journal International — has very nearly reached the pinnacle for coaches. He’s en route to become a master instructor for the International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructors Association, and he’s a candidate to become a Gold certified coach – the highest level of coach USBC recognizes. Gold level coaches, for all intents and purposes, have earned a doctorate in bowling.
“It will happen,” Andy says. “I’m not one hundred percent sure when. But it will.”
This isn’t arrogance on Andy’s part. Indeed, his devotion to the students he mentors – including my son – precludes any arrogance. He’s committed to following his passion, and that passion will inevitably take him to the highest level. It’s all for love of the sport and its participants.
“This is the greatest sport in the world to be involved in,” he says. Spend some time on the lanes with him, and he’s likely to convince you of that, too.
Story by Rob Cline, Photos by Sarah Bozaan