Contrary to what many people may think, Harleigh and Cooper Isbell are not paternal twins. They do, however, share some of the same traits as twin sisters.
Harleigh, 18, was born in October 1995 and Cooper was born in September ‘96, which makes them 11 months apart. Yet, they are both seniors at Clay High School and they both love bowling. They have almost played every sport imaginable together, including softball and volleyball for the Eagles.
“The two sisters are inseparable,” Clay bowling coach Ron Koles said. “When you see one, you see the other one.”
The Isbell girls are not ones to quibble with that statement.
“If you see Cooper, I’m probably not far behind,” Harleigh said. “Probably because we’re so close in age. We’re in the same grade and we literally have the same friends. We’re always together.”
Cooper, 17, added, “We have the same thing going as twins. We used to play softball and we both enjoy going to hockey games - Red Wings and the high school games.”
When it comes to bowling, the sisters are very close in talent but not necessarily so when it comes to competitiveness at the bowling alley.
“I’ve grown up super competitive, not just in bowling,” Harleigh said. “Volleyball, softball ... Cooper’s just not. One time this year we were bowling against each other in a different league and I kind of gave her stuff about it, like I’m better than you. She ended up beating me one game, by about 10 pins, and I just kind of laughed it off. I came back and beat her two games. When it’s Cooper (winning), it’s not that big a deal. But when it’s other girls, I get super frustrated with myself if I lose.”
Harleigh and Cooper bowl for Clay’s Gold Team, which includes Bedford High senior Spencer Sevrence. Even though bowling is a club sport at Clay, which competes in the Toledo Metro League, there isn’t a varsity bowling program in the state that wouldn’t be thrilled to have the Isbells on its squad.
Harleigh’s 192 average is the best girls average in the Metro League, and she has a 200 average in the Junior All-Stars Travel League. Last Saturday, Harleigh bowled a 715 series in the Metro League and rolled a 279 game en route to a 708 series in the Travel League.
“Harleigh is probably the best female bowler in the high school and traveling league,” Koles said. “She takes it more seriously than the other girl bowlers, plus she came from a bowling family. They’ve probably been in the bowling atmosphere most of their lives.”
Cooper has a 183 average in the Travel League and a 181 average in the Metro League.
“So far I’m bowling well,” Cooper said. “I had a 267 (game) this year, which is my highest. So far the year’s been going pretty good.”
“Cooper is solid,” Koles said. “She does the sport but is kind of the laid-back one of the two. She just throws her ball, comes back, picks it up and does it again. She takes it serious, but probably not as serious as Harleigh does. She’s improved probably 10 pins from last year.”
The girls’ uncle, Troy Wallenbecker, bowled on the PBA Tour for about five years. Their great grandfather and grandfather, both named Don Wollenbecker, used to own Wally's Eastgate Lanes in Oregon.
Valerie Isbell, Harleigh and Cooper’s mother, said the girls have been bowling since they were 6 or 7.
“My family has just been a big bowling family,” Valerie said. “Everybody in my family bowls. They’ve never bowled with bumpers, always on their own. They’ve always been very good at it, just something they’ve excelled at. Harleigh takes it a little more seriously than Cooper. Cooper is there to have fun. If Cooper can have a good time, that’s what it’s about for her.”
“Every Saturday was bowling growing up,” Cooper said. “It was weird if I didn’t do it.”
Surprisingly, neither Isbell sister has ever bowled a 300. They both roll three games every Saturday morning and another three games in the afternoon.
“Cooper and I don’t practice,” said Harleigh, who has competed in travel leagues since age 11. “I hate practicing. I guess I’m just lazy. Growing up, I would practice here and there but not often. I would just do it on my own.”
The Isbells are adamant that bowling at the college level is not an option. In fact, Harleigh and Cooper said the exact same thing when asked about it: “After this year, I’m done.”
“College bowling is a lot of work,” Cooper said, “and there is a lot to do. I don’t think I would be able to handle it, with school and everything. I’ve been accepted to two schools down in South Carolina, and Harleigh wants to go to the University of Cincinnati.”
Clay bowlers Cooper Isbell and Harleigh Isbell.