Let's face it. The number of people bowling in leagues is not what it once was. But open play,or just-for-fun bowling,is all the rage.
At the peak of league bowling,in 1979 and 1980,about 9 million adults and youths were league members. Now there are about 3 million. That's a 3 to 6 percent decrease every year for the past 25 years,and the United States Bowling Congress has taken note.
It's a sign of the times,Mark Miller,the group's spokesman,said.
“Lifestyles of Americans have changed in the last years. More women work out of the home,and one of the big things in the 1950s and 1960s were the daytime women's leagues,” Miller said.
The group is sponsoring National Bowling Week from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1 in a nationwide effort to call attention to the sport and boost league membership with discounts and other events.
In Baton Rouge,La.,Circle Bowl and Metro Bowl will offer $2 games and $2 shoe rentals,down from $4 and $3.50. The city's mayor announced the special events,and World Champion Parker Bohn III will be honorary mayor Sept. 1.
“Well,I would say the number of league bowlers is down here,just like across the country,” said Marc Pater,district manager for Malco Bowling,which owns the two alleys. “And these events are a push for more bowlers to come in,as a family or as a couple,to have fun and enjoy our sport with the ultimate goal that they like the game enough to join as league players.”
Peggy Lefort,61,and Billie FaKouri,77,have been bowling on the Rocking Redbirds team at Circle Bowl for more than 20 years. The team,part of a women's league,competes every Wednesday morning.
Lefort and FaKouri acknowledge that league membership has declined,but they are excited about the attention National Bowling Week will bring to the sport. They admit their love for league bowling is as much for the game as it is for the socializing.
“All the women on the league are really good friends,” FaKouri said. “I even feel like they are my family. I can call on any of them,if I need them. If one of us has a problem,we all have a problem.”
Meanwhile,individual bowling numbers are on the rise,with the highest number recorded since the National Sporting Goods Association began its annual surveys in 1984. The 2005 survey found that more than 45 million people nationwide,ages 7 and older, bowl at least twice a year for fun.
“Well,I think it's because bowling is fun,” Larry Weindruch,the group's spokesman,said. “Most of the increase I am aware of is among casual or social bowlers who bowl more for the fun and recreation rather than competitive bowling in leagues.”
Weindruch said a number of “big things” lure teens and young adults into bowling,including glow-in-the-dark bowling,also called “cosmic bowling.” Pins glow under a black light while the latest music plays.
“In the mid-90s there was a renewed effort to get young people,like teens and 20-somethings,to bowl,” he said,“those who said bowling was grandma and grandpa's sport.”
Michael Fellows,clerk at Strike Bethesda in Bethesda,Md.,said the alley does not offer league bowling but is doing great business with recreational bowlers.
He said the customers love the “premium entertainment” that the 34-lane alley offers with its 17 flat-screen televisions,loud,popular music and cocktail waitresses.
Wednesday night drew about 75 bowlers,which Fellows said was pretty good. About 30 bowlers were part of an office party. But the turnout was nothing compared to Monday nights when $15 buys unlimited bowling until 2 a.m. and free shoes.
Chris Ayers,25,a graduate student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh,N.C.,was bowling at Strike Bethesda for the first time. He liked the environment but hadn't considered league bowling.
“I bowl just for fun,like once every couple of months,” he said. “But,I'm not that good,and not that serious about it. I just don't know that many people who bowl to join a league.”