Josie Barnes shares that a combination of shooting high, a little luck, and her mother’s forward-thinking approach led her to become, first, a student and then a bowling coach for Vanderbilt University, one of America’s finest universities, and most well-known bowling schools in the country. Growing up in Vandalia, she says that academics were always a priority. A 2005 graduate, Josie shares that she was salutatorian, meaning she was the second highest-ranked student in her graduating class.
The biggest thing I learned growing up in Vandalia was how to work hard.
On a Roll
Josie coaches from Mid-September through April and quickly transitions from coach to competitor by bowling in the women’s professional league from May through August. While her busy schedule prevents her from being able to visit home as often as she’d like, she says that the residents of Vandalia have always been more than supportive of her and her family.
“The biggest thing I learned growing up in Vandalia was how to work hard. We’re a very blue-collar community, and for me to succeed athletically and academically, I had to work hard and be resourceful. I knew how to be resourceful. It taught me to take advantage of those little things right before me and not be scared to use what was available. It taught me how to be gritty.” She shares, “You figure out that the people who succeed in these obscure pockets are just regular people. I just happened to find a niche that I loved and was good at, and I’ve taken advantage of it.”
Josie grew up and lived in Vandalia until she moved to Nashville, Tennessee for college. While at Vanderbilt, she graduated with a Human and Organizational Development degree. She also excelled as a student-athlete, being named a first-team All-American bowler three consecutive seasons and earning Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009. She was named to Vanderbilt’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013 and has lived in Nashville ever since, purchasing a home that she now shares with her husband and daughter.
Josie says that her parents fell in love with the sport of bowling, choosing to spend their scarce disposable income on Friday night bowling dates to relax and celebrate completing another hard week of work. At the time, her parents lived in Greenville. Still, when they learned that a twelve-lane bowling alley in Vandalia had been vacant for months, so they moved to Vandalia, purchased the facility, and set their sights on recreating their Friday night experience for their newly adopted, hard-working hometown.
Growing up in a bowling alley, Josie and her sister, Jess, spent their childhoods immersed in the game. Both went on to earn athletic scholarships to bowl for Vanderbilt, with Josie and Jess competing on the same team when Josie was a senior and Jess was a freshman. With a laugh, Josie admits that while in high school, she threw a recruitment letter from Vanderbilt into the trash, only to learn that her mother, whom Josie describes as strategic and forward-thinking, dug it out of the trash and kept it hidden for over a year. Now, all these years later, owing to the letter retrieved from the trash, Josie reveals that she’s joined our Zoom interview from an Airbnb in Las Vegas as she and her sister are touring the country together in the women’s professional bowling league. One can scarcely imagine the alternative outcome, had her mother not grabbed that letter!
Josie joined the Professional Women’s Bowling Association (PWBA) when it returned from an eleven-year hiatus in 2015 but had also placed fifth in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. Josie won her first PWBA event in 2016, finishing first in the Rochester Open. She also won events in 2018 and 2019, taking the top spot in the East Hartford Open and the Nationwide PWBA Greater Cleveland Open, respectively.
Josie has also competed on the United States National Team nine times, earning six gold, two bronze, and two silver medals in US team play. But her most significant accomplishment is likely winning the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, which came with the largest prize check—$100,000—ever awarded at a professional women’s bowling event. But while Josie has proven herself competing against some of the world’s greatest bowlers, the game’s simple beauty appeals to her.
“I love that everyone has a bowling story. Whether you’re good at it or you’re bad at it. You can think back to a birthday party or a Friday night of cosmic bowling, and you had a good time. On the competitive side, you can do it for a long time. My grandparents still live in Vandalia. He’s eighty-three, and he bowls every Monday night. There are just those connections that span generations.
Josie leans into the lessons she’s learned. She believes that if you want to love life and what you do, you need to follow what excites you, sharing that nothing is too obscure if it interests you. While she only means to speak for herself and reflect on her childhood, I wonder if she’s captured a unique aspect of Vandalia’s spirit as she closes our conversation, “I was very much a blue-collar kid, but when I worked hard, I found I could accomplish something.”
And accomplish something, she certainly has. Bravo, Josie, bravo.