Jessica Gress and her mom vividly recall mornings during Jessica’s sophomore year at Whitehall-Yearling High School when she couldn’t even get out of bed.

When she was 11 years old, Gress was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which has affected her participation in the sport she loves: bowling.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis now is referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis and causes symptoms like joint pain, swelling and stiffness.

Gress bowled as a freshman for the Rams, but was forced to miss her sophomore season because of severe arthritis episodes. She said the disorder has affected her hips, knees, ankles, right arm – she is a right-handed bowler – and the base of her spine.

Gress credits a new treatment for her ability to return for her junior season and, more importantly, improve her daily life. She receives monthly infusions of Actemra, an immunosuppressive drug.

“It feels great to be back,” Gress said. “I knew I was going to be back at some point whether it’d be junior or senior year. ... I’m absolutely grateful that I have the chance to come back. The infusions are working really well.”

Although the treatments, which she receives in her home from nurses, have improved her qualify of life, Gress said she still feels discomfort when bowling.

“Every shot I take my hip locks up, my knee buckles, but I just have to get over that and take my meds,” she said. “The infusions are helping greatly and it’s going to be a good season.”

Gress is eighth in central Ohio with a 181.1 average.

“I’m very proud of her,” her mother, Robin, said. “Her arthritis doctor told her she needed to give up softball but that she could continue bowling. There was many a morning when she could not get out of bed.”

The Rams are 4-4 overall and in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-B Division.

Gress helped Whitehall reach .500 with a 379 two-game series in a 1,585-1,483 win over Hilliard Davidson on Jan. 17 at Ten Pin Alley.

She has a 256 high game this season.

Gress has emerged as the team’s top bowler after it lost 2018 graduates Makayla Barber, Alexis Stiffler and Madison Stiffler. The trio helped the Rams reach the Division I state tournament four consecutive seasons.

“I like how the team looks up to me,” Gress said. “If I get down, they get down, which I need to work on.”

As a freshman, Gress had a 159.9 average.

She began bowling at 4 years old with her brother, Paul, who is a 2014 graduate of Whitehall and former bowler on the boys team.

She credits coach Lorie Shaw for her development in the sport.

“She’s a really good coach,” Gress said. “She’s watched me since I started bowling when I was 4. She’s helped me the entire way up. I wouldn’t be the bowler I am today without her or without (her father) Jim Shaw.”

Lorie and Jim Shaw coached Gress at the youth level.

“I’ve known Jessica for a long time,” Lorie Shaw said. “I’m not surprised she’s come back so strong. She’s got heart. I think she’s going to be one of the girls who goes to state this year.”

Kamdon Pauley is second on the team with a 124.7 average, followed by Bayla Bonner (121.1).

“We want to keep improving and I think they are,” Lorie Shaw said. “They’re working really hard. They’re improving every week, so we’re just going to keep building on that.”

Boys bowling coach likes team’s progress

Boys bowling coach Tavi Netotian has been pleased with his team’s improvement as it continues the second half of the regular season.

Whitehall is 3-5 overall and in the COHSBC-B.

“I like where we are,” Netotian said. “Some of these kids started by throwing 50s and 60s and now they’re over 100, 120s, 130s. The kids are getting more mature.”

The Rams lost to Davidson 1,979-1,742 on Jan. 17 at Ten Pin Alley. Jason Kefauver led Whitehall with a 345, followed by Brandon Shaw (320) and Elias Rozzelle (294).

Kefauver has a team-high 197.5 average, followed by Shaw (190.2) and Rozzelle (154.9).

Boys basketball team edges rival Bexley

Taylon Cofer’s basket at the buzzer lifted the boys basketball team to a 45-43 win at Bexley on Jan. 18.

Cofer finished with 13 points and Charles Miller added 11.

Cofer scored 15 points and Kei’Von Wiggins added 10 in a 52-49 loss at Hartley on Jan. 15.

Whitehall was 7-5 overall before playing St. Charles on Jan. 22 and is 3-1 in the MSL-Ohio.

Girls basketball team has winning record

The girls basketball team was 8-6 overall before playing West Jefferson on Jan. 22 and is 3-2 in the MSL-Ohio.

Kiara Bagley scored 13 points in a 48-30 win at Heath on Jan. 17 and 18 points in a 38-36 win at Groveport on Jan. 15.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank

Schedules

Below are the coming schedules for the Whitehall-Yearling boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling and wrestling teams:

BOYS BASKETBALL

Jan. 29 – At Reynoldsburg

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Jan. 25 – Home vs. Jonathan Alder

Jan. 29 – Home vs. Central Crossing

BOWLING

Jan. 26 – Jaguar Baker Marathon at Wayne Webb’s Columbus Bowl

*Jan. 29 – Hilliard Darby at Ten Pin Alley

WRESTLING

Jan. 25-26 – Sally George Invitational at Marion Pleasant

*League contest