East Islip's Mike Kissel, left, is congratulated by his teammates...

East Islip's Mike Kissel, left, is congratulated by his teammates during the boys bowling match against North Babylon. (Jan. 3, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There is an unusual pause before Jacob Klein approaches his lane -- about 15 seconds during which the bowler stands still, tilts his head and mouths something.

Shot after shot -- and so often, strike after strike -- the ritual is repeated.

"I talk to him before every shot I throw," Klein said. "Sometimes I'm just saying stuff he said to me, like advice or encouragement. I'll even say, 'Come on, Rick. Let's do this.' "

Last summer, several members of the East Islip bowling team visited Rick Papandrea in the hospital. Papandrea, their beloved coach and mentor, was by then entering the grim stages of his seven-month battle with stomach cancer.

"It was hard seeing him like that," said Klein, a junior who had been friends with the coach since he was 9. "He was tiny and he wasn't doing well."

Papandrea, known for his jovial personality, didn't allow the group to dwell on his misfortune, they said. Instead, he told them "that we have a job to do."

East Islip, in the decade under Papandrea, became a bowling powerhouse, a program accustomed to dominance. But the Redmen, a rebuilding team last year, failed to defend their county championship and took 11th in the Suffolk tournament.

Papandrea received his diagnosis in May and, after surgery, developed an infection that made his situation dire.

"He said he wanted us to come back and make a statement," junior Jon Cheadle said. "That's all he wanted from us."

Papandrea, 53, died the morning of Nov. 4, two weeks before the season began. And the Redmen, after spending that Sunday afternoon mourning, went to East Islip Lanes and started practice that night.

"It intensified everything for them in terms of focus and purpose," said Bob Cheadle, the new head coach and Jon Cheadle's father. "That first night, they let a lot of it out."

East Islip opened the season Nov. 29, hosting North Babylon, and put forth what Cheadle called "the best performance I've ever seen."

The team started with 22 consecutive strikes, and Klein, Steve Rourke, Mike Kissel and Jon Cheadle each rolled better than a 700 series. Their 3,620 pinfall was the third most in Suffolk history. "And they haven't lost one bit of the passion from that day," Bob Cheadle said.

East Islip's 1,117 average is the best on Long Island, they have a 6-0 record and five bowlers among the top 15 in average, including sophomore Nick DeFazio, whose average has jumped 16 pins to 222. Klein leads with 231.4.

On the monitors in East Islip Lanes, which continually scroll through lists of the high scorers, a written memorial for Papandrea cycles every minute or so. And stitched into the right sleeve of the team's bowling shirts, in gray lettering, is "RICK." The bowlers who were members of the 2009-10 team also have "CAT," in memory of Sandy Catalano, the assistant coach who died of leukemia in 2009.

"I'd known Rick for about 15 years and he helped me a lot with my own game," said Cheadle, who became the assistant after Catalano's passing. "A lot of what I try to do is take what he taught me and impart it on the kids."

It's working.

Papandrea also left a more tangible mark on both teams. He ran the pro shop at East Islip Lanes, which supplied most of the teams' equipment. Seniors Kelsey Fryer and Courtney McGinn said when they joined as seventh-graders, it took Papandrea mere seconds to determine their specifications and begin customizing balls for them. That equipment now serves as a memento.

The Suffolk bowling coaches association -- of which Papandrea was president -- is considering naming a tournament after Papandrea and plans to distribute commemorative pins to members of every team this month.

Papandrea's proudest moment, loved ones said, followed the 2008 season, when East Islip became the first school in New York to have its boys and girls bowling teams win state championships in the same year. That, his son, Rick Jr. said, "was like a World Series trophy for him."

The girls team was state runner-up last year and the boys appear capable of making another run. Duplicating 2008, they said, would be the ultimate tribute to Papandrea.

"When I'm bowling, I think about what he said and it's our goal," Jon Cheadle said. "We have to make him proud."


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months