I have been a serious bowler since I was about 8 years old.
My parents met in a mixed league, so it was natural that I would go with them to the lanes and watch them bowl. I started bowling with them, and when they got tired of bowling, I wanted to keep bowling on my own. Soon the desk people at the lanes convinced them to sign me up for my first Saturday morning youth program. (I have been a sanctioned member of YABA, ABC and now USBC, since 1986!)
From age 8 until 21 (I bowled 2 years of youth league in college before I “went adult”), Saturday mornings were for bowling. Every year, we went to the city and state tournaments. As a teenager, I bowled in the two-day Leilani Junior Swisses twice a year. (No JBTs back then). Friday afternoons after school were for practice, at the legendary Leilani Lanes (which is now an apartment building… but I’ll get into that more later)
Not all youth bowlers take bowling as seriously as I did — but I bet many of you reading this do, and quite a few young bowlers and families can relate to how my family and I viewed bowling.
To me, it’s never been a sport. I didn’t consider it my hobby. It wasn’t even a pastime or an activity. It was in my blood — I bowled. We Hongs all bowled. It was, quite simply, our way of life.
Friday night sleepovers at a friend’s house? Forget it — I had somewhere to be on Saturday morning.
Relatives not sure what to get me for my birthday? They knew a stack of free games or a gift certificate to the pro shop would make me the happiest teenager on the planet. (Actually, those gifts still work quite well today).
Not sure where to find me on a weeknight after I got my license? There’s a good chance I was down the street from my parents’ house, practicing at Imperial Lanes. (I still remember the number — 325-2525)
Now It’s 2018, and bowling needs your help. Competitive youth bowling is alive and well, but our centers, our venues, our homes — the lifeblood of our way of life — are slowly being threatened.
Last month, I tried scheduling what I thought would be a cool tournament at an FEC — a Family Entertainment Center. FECs, unlike traditional bowling centers, usually do not have leagues or tournaments. Instead, they woo customers with cool lighting and atmosphere, top-notch food and drinks, luxury seating, state-of-the-art everything — and premium prices to match.
The managers at the FEC where I had hoped to host my tournament told me they really wanted us. They said they were huge supporters of youth activities. This sounded great — I was hoping they would give me a discount in support of our good youth cause (all the college scholarships we would be awarding). But it was not to be: They wanted to HAVE our youth event, but they were going to charge us full price. Discounts weren’t even on their radar.
It would have been a neat experience, but not a good way to run a youth tournament. Your entry fee would have all gone to the house for lineage, and there’d be nothing left over for scholarship prizes.
A “traditional” bowling center that is highly accustomed to running leagues and tournaments, Kenmore Lanes, offered to host our event — AND they gave us a good price. And that brings me to my point.
If you love bowling and competing, then you and I need traditional bowling centers to survive. We need to support places like West Seattle, Kenmore, Hiline, Evergreen, Milwaukie, Kellogg, Triangle, Oak Bowl, Riverside, Spare Time, Nob Hill, Spin Alley, Hazel Dell, Lilac, Kingpins, and ALL the countless other centers (yes, I know I’ve left out many) that support youth bowling by hosting leagues and tournaments and sponsoring scholarships.
When a traditional bowling center closes, we lose one more venue to grow youth bowling. We lose one more place for people like you and me to practice, get coaching, and become “addicted” to the game.
I think many bowlers are under the mistaken assumption that bowling proprietors take joy in seeing other centers fail. Smart proprietors know that every time a center closes, a piece of the league base, and therefore the future of the sport and industry, disappears with it — because not every league bowler automatically moves to another house after their center closes. Many of them just quit bowling altogether.
It’s a new year, and I call on all members of our NW bowling community to rally together in support of the industry. Support your local center. Go practice, spend money in the pro shop, and take the time to learn about what it takes to keep a center open. Ask the mechanic if you can watch a pinsetter work, so you gain an appreciation for how hard it is to keep the machines running (and maybe you’ll be less likely to complain next time it takes 10 minutes to fix a downed machine). Don’t hang out in FB newsgroups for advice — seek out your local pro and be willing to view lessons as an investment in your long-term improvement. Be your local proprietor’s biggest advocate.
Over the past several years the NW has lost many lanes — Robin Hood, Sunset, Leilani, Imperial, Sportsworld, Hollywood, Interstate, and many others… but did you know that several other, brand-new centers, have opened? Round 1, Family Fun Center, Bass Pro Shop, The Garage, Lucky Strike, Punch Bowl Social, Grand Central, Ocean5…. many brand-new facilities have sprung up in the Northwest in recent years.
Want to guess how many leagues and tournaments call those places home? (Hint… you can count them on one hand. Or no hands, actually).
It’s not enough to have buildings with lanes. We need places that support competitive, sanctioned, REAL bowling. And we need to support those places and do our part to keep them open…. so we can keep our way of life alive.