Clinton head coach Mark Richardson watches as a bowler throws a frame during Senior Day at the Plaza Bowl. Richardson is retiring after 16 years as head coach for the Clinton River Kings and Queens.

You can’t really think about Clinton High bowling without thinking about head coach Mark Richardson.

I mean, he is a huge part of the current success of the program. Richardson has been a part of River King and Queen bowling for 25 years in some capacity now, starting when his daughter was a freshman.

“When I first got into it, it was just a club sport,” Richardson reminisced. Only Clinton, Muscatine and Davenport West had teams and bowled against each other.

Now, two decades later, he’s still there. He took over the head coaching job 16 years ago. In that time, he saw the federation form to lobby for bowling to become a sanctioned high school sport. In 2006 it happened for the girls, and in 2010 for the boys.

So as long as the Kings and Queens have been in competition, he’s been head coach.

That run is coming to an end after this season wraps up later this winter when Richardson steps down from the head coaching position. He has a granddaughter in Tennessee who just signed to bowl at the collegiate level. He wants to be free to watch her compete.

At the Burlington match on Saturday, Jan. 5, the team presented Richardson with a pink sparkly walker in addition to a handful of gifts.

“Mark’s been our coach since we were like five years old,” senior Keaton Hudson said. “It’s really emotional.”

It’s obvious he’s had a huge impact on the kids he’s taken under his wing. He is in charge of youth bowling over at the Plaza and has shaped the Clinton bowling program into on of the most successful programs in the school. Wins and state trips litter is repertoire.

In fact, the first year the boys were a sanctioned sport, the River Kings claimed the state title. They will always be the first state champion in Iowa. It’s one of Richardson’s all-time favorite memories.

“Especially being the first one ever,” Richardson said. “It’s always on top.”

Plus, he makes the sport a good time.

“He knows when you’re supposed to be serious and when you can mess around,” senior Connor Hyde said. “He’s super sarcastic, you get a lot of jokes out of him and he’s just fun to be around.”

“He just says what he’s thinking, he doesn’t care at all,” Anna Kurtz said.

“He’s taught me a lot over the years and I think he’s just a positive coach. He always makes you smile,” Avary Krick said.

He takes inexperienced kids and turns them into knowledgeable athletes. They come to him to learn about which ball to use in which situation, the oil patterns and the house tendencies. He talks about tips to hit the split and how to improve consistency.

“When you’re doing what he says, it doesn’t feel like it’s helping you,” Hyde said. “But it really, really is.”

When the Clinton Herald asked a handful of the seniors what they were going to miss about the sport, they all had just one answer: my coach.

It definitely is reciprocated. He had one answer when asked about what he was going to miss about coaching.

“I’m going to miss the kids,” Richardson said. “Over the years, I’ve met a lot of really nice kids and quite a few of them stay in touch. I’m going to miss the kids.”

He’s already admitted you’ll still catch him at meets from time-to-time and staying in touch will never be an issue. The Clinton High bowling program has become as much a part of him as he is a part of it.

Although he won’t be the one at the helm anymore after the 2019 season ends (which everyone is hoping ends in two trips to state), he has built an incredible program and legacy.

“I just wanted to keep a program that had already been started going,” Richardson said. “Give them the little bit of knowledge I had to excel at the sport and to the best they could. I wanted them to be competitive and most of all, learn sportsmanship.”

Clinton hosts a large tournament this Saturday at the Plaza Bowl, starting at 10 a.m. with the first round of schools.