When Tony Villano started coaching the Fair Lawn High School boys varsity bowling team in 1999, he set out to repurpose a booze-infused bowling tradition for the greater good of the community.
Fourteen years later, he estimates the high school team has delivered some 2,000 items to the Fair Lawn Food Pantry as a result.
In beer-guzzling bowling circles, Villano explains, the captain of a team sometimes buys his fellow bowlers a round when every member of the team strikes in the same frame. If all but one bowler strikes, that bowler foots the bill for the next round of brew.
"I determined a need to put a positive spin on this old tradition," Villano explained. "Therefore, we changed the 'beer frame' to a 'soup frame' and, instead of buying a round of beverage, the boy affected is asked to buy a non-perishable food item for the food pantry."
The tradition encourages focus on performance, builds team spirit and provides a community service, all in one, he said.
And as "team captain," Villano also gets in on the giving action. He buys when the whole team strikes.
"Of course, those are my favorite frames," he said. "The boys love sticking me and, at the same time, it means that we're doing well as a team."
Villano keeps a tally of the "soup frames" that each bowler owes throughout the season and collects the spoils at the team's end-of-season wrap-up and pizza party.
He said the boys often go "above and beyond," by bringing in more than they owe with help of donations from friends and family. Members of the girls team pitch in, too.
The team's starters recently delivered this year's haul -- about 15 bags -- to the food pantry, and even helped sort it, check expiration dates and put it away on the shelves, food pantry coordinator Liz Twiggs said.
"While they were putting it away I was able to explain to them how the food pantry works and where their donations go," Twiggs said.
Villano estimates the team brings in between 100 and 200 items each year, for a total of close to 2,000 during his coaching tenure.