BUTLER TWP — With one swoop of the pen, Autumn Hepler made history.
The Butler senior signed a national letter-of-intent Wednesday with Ursuline College — a Division II school in Pepper Pike, Ohio, near Cleveland — to continue her academic and bowling career.
She became the first Butler High School student to ever sign a bowling scholarship.
“She's a sweetheart, a great kid and an ideal student,” Butler schools superintendent Mike Strutt said. “I'm so proud of her.”
Hepler was one of the stalwarts of the Golden Tornado girls bowling team the past four years. The team has gone 40-0 in regular season matches since its inception in 2009, winning the regional and state championship last month.
“I'm ecstatic this team had the success it had,” Strutt said. “When Jim (Butler assistant coach and Autumn's father) Hepler approached me with the idea of starting a team, I was on board with it immediately.
“This program gave more kids the opportunity to wear our school's colors and represent their school in an activity. And they did it with such pride.”
Jim Hepler said the Butler High School bowling program “gave Autumn more exposure” to colleges and provided another stage for her to display her ability.
Autumn Hepler averaged 166 her freshman season with Butler and averaged 189 her senior year. Her average increased each season.
She is averaging 206 in the Saturday youth league at Sherwood Lanes.
“You can't do what these kids do bowling once a week,” Butler bowling coach Bill Fay said. “Those seniors were dedicated to the game. They bowl all the time. They still do.”
Hepler attended a collegiate expo in Michigan and learned of the Ursuline program. She had originally looked at St. Francis' (Pa.) program, but there were no openings and that coach tossed her name to Ursuline's staff.
“Ursuline's team captain (Kelsie Kirchartz) is from the WPIBL (Plum High School), so they know how good the bowling is in our league,” Autumn said.
Ursuline, nicknamed the Arrows, has had a bowling team for five years. This year marked its first in Division II competition. The Arrows' eight-bowler roster placed eighth out of 17 teams in the Allentown sectional. The top four teams advanced to the Intercollegiate Bowling Championship finals in Lincoln, Neb.
Ursuline had one bowler this season — Rachael Albright with a 190.88 — sporting an average higher than Hepler's 189. This year's team had no seniors.
“I have a chance to break into the starting lineup,” Hepler said. “They bowl at Freeway Lanes, an 80-lane house in Wickliffe. The place is awesome and I can't wait.
“I love the high-pressure situations, with everybody watching, people being loud and crazy ... It's fun.”
Her 9-year-old brother, Brock, has been bowling since age 2 and hopes to one day compete on Butler's high school team. He never missed his sister's high school matches.
“What she did was amazing,” Brock said of his sister. “I missed some Cub Scout camps to go watch her, but she's not going to be here next year. It was worth it.”
And high school bowling was worth it to Hepler.
“My experiences with the high school team helped my confidence,” she said. “Going into college bowling without going through that would have been scary.”
Hepler carries a 4.08 grade point average and plans to major in chemical engineering.