Bowling runs in the family

Molloy freshman bowler Thomas Cacioppo (l.) with his coach and grandfather, Vinny Leonardo. Photo by Marc Raimondi
TimesLedger Newspapers

Archbishop Molloy had just won the city championship and the bowling lanes were clear. Everyone was in the front of the building when Thomas Cacioppo grabbed a ball.

Cacioppo was 4 years old at the time and always begging his grandfather, Stanners Coach Vinny Leonardo, to let him bowl. He would not be denied that day. With no one looking, he let it go.

“He rolls the ball,” Leonardo said. “It’s going about a mile an hour, straight dead down center. And he throws a strike. The place just roared.”

Call it foreshadowing.

A decade later, Cacioppo is at Molloy now as a freshman and playing JV under Leonardo and his mother Patti. All Cacioppo has wanted to do since he was an infant was bowl for his grandfather at Molloy and he currently leads the team with a 177 average. Leonardo has been at the school for 19 years and Cacioppo says he’s been by his side for 14 of them.

“I learned mostly from watching the Molloy kids bowling,” he said. “I was a little baby, I was in a carriage and I would always go to the matches. Even though I was the short one, I was always standing on a chair cheering for them, whether they were winning or losing.”

Cacioppo has learned well. He comes from a bowling family and that’s the sport he has chosen. The goal is to one day earn a college scholarship like former Molloy star Marlon Nepomuceno did when he bowled at Arizona State recently. Cacioppo vows to surpass Nepomuceno, a friend, as a Molloy all-time great, though Leonardo tells him, “Easy does it.”

“Even though it’s not a big sport like baseball or basketball, it’s bowling,” Cacioppo said. “It’s what I love to do. It means a lot to me that I made the team and to be bowling for my grandfather and my mom.”

He has won state tournaments in his age group before high school and earned more than $500 in scholarship money through bowling already. Leonardo thinks he, Matt Gardner and Mike Carillo, all freshmen, can be among the best bowlers in the city as they get older. Molloy has won nine varsity CHSAA intersectional titles and seven junior varsity. But the Stanners have been in a drought since 2008. This is the nucleus that might bring them back.

“It’s probably the best group I’ve had strength-wise coming in,” Leonardo said.

The junior varsity even had a higher average than the varsity in a match against Bishop Ford recently. But Leonardo doesn’t believe in freshmen being on varsity — much like Molloy legendary boys’ basketball Coach Jack Curran. Leonardo has just one in his tenure, Paul Marshall in 1997, and only a handful of sophomores.

“The three of them will probably move up faster than I’ve done in the past,” Leonardo said. “When you wind up on varsity, that puts you on a higher level and the expectations are that much more. I don’t want to put that on a freshman. I feel like freshmen need to settle in their first year.”

The transition has been easier for Cacioppo, of course. He’s been around Molloy bowling his entire life, going back to that scene when he was 4 after the city title match.

“He was always saying, ‘Papa, when can I throw a bowling ball — I want to throw a bowling ball,’” Leonardo said. “He wanted to bowl even then.”

He’s getting the chance now, keeping it in the family. Leonardo said Cacioppo is not his grandson at the bowling alley and he’s not treated any differently.

With one exception.

“I can’t call him Vin, though,” Cacioppo said with a laugh.

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