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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Spare him the bowling jokes- it’s not just a game, dude

Why do people laugh when I tell them I’m in a bowling league?

I have had many conversations lately in which the topic of bowling has come up (admittedly, it’s usually at my prompting) and people always seem surprised and unabashedly bemused when I mention my dedication to the league and my passion for the sport. If I dare to mention that I own my own shoes and ball, their eyes grow wide with incredulity. It’s the same look I get when I tell people my favorite movie is “Teen Wolf.”

These discomforting looks usually keep me from mentioning how excited I am to be a card-carrying member of the Poweshiek County chapter of the United States Bowling Congress, or USBC. But if I’m ever required to produce a second form of ID, I know exactly what I’m going to pull out of my wallet.

I suppose these reactions stem from the popular misconception of bowling as a pastime for the chronically square middle-aged suburban dad and a sport for the un-athletic. People probably look at me and think, “You’re a young, hip dude in the prime of his life. With your physical prowess and killer physique, I simply assumed you spent your time doing extreme sports, like ice climbing or cross-country snorkeling.”

Well, I can’t fault the logic in the second half of that paragraph (I’ve got a mirror, so I know what all the fuss is about), but I will take issue with the first. Bowling is not just for middle-aged men—go to any bowling alley in America and I guarantee you’ll see guys way past middle-aged. More like guys from the Middle Ages, amirite?

No, not rite! Bowling is enjoyed by a wide spectrum of people who wisely recognize its value as a sport and social activity. For the serious bowler, it is an ongoing competition with oneself, a chance for perpetual self-improvement, a mental and physical test of one’s concentration and finely-honed skills. Plus, you get to drink beer while you’re doing it.

There are two distinct types of bowling—social and competitive. Social bowling sees the game as an excuse for hanging out, and rolling the ball is simply an addition to—or possibly an interruption of—interacting with friends. You rent some shoes, grab a ball off the rack, and you may or may not even watch to see how many pins you knock down after you roll. For many, the whole event is only an excuse to quote “The Big Lebowski.”

Competitive bowling keeps many of the elements of social bowling, but there is a lot more conversation about form, technique and lane conditions. The competitive bowler lives and dies by strikes and spares as he or she seeks to dominate the lane with each roll of the ball. For many of us, the whole event is still mainly an excuse to quote “The Big Lebowski,” but we identify more with The Jesus than The Dude.

The more seriously one takes bowling as a sport, the more fun it becomes. I’m not a great bowler, but I am competitive and I like the fact that each frame presents a distinct goal, the achievement of which depends entirely on my own abilities. While it may not be as physically demanding as a sport like basketball or football, it still requires a lot of hand-eye coordination, mental toughness in the form of concentration and strategy, and the development of acute muscle-memory. And, did I mention that you get to drink beer while you’re doing it?

Participating in a league raises the stakes for each ball and each game for the individual while allowing the team to bond by striving toward a shared goal. When you get a strike or pick up a difficult spare, you get to celebrate that achievement—if you miss, there is always the next frame.

I’ve gotten a lot out of becoming a serious bowler. The warmth of the alley provides a welcome refuge during the cold Iowa winter. I’ve gotten to spend quality time with the faculty and faculty spouses who are on my team. I’ve gotten to know people from the Grinnell community who are not part of the College. I’ve been able to say to someone, “Sorry, Smokie, you were over the line. Mark it zero. Next frame”—and I meant it.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot, too. I’ve learned how to go from rolling a straight ball to rolling a hook, taking delight in those times when the ball glides perfectly into the pocket and explodes the pins. I’m learning how to keep myself from getting too frustrated by the times when I leave myself with an impossible split or fail to pick up a one-pin spare. And I’ve learned that joining a men’s bowling league is not a great way to meet women.

Those who scoff at the sport tend to be those who have very little experience with it, and so they fail to appreciate its complexity and the skill required to truly excel. They may laugh, but to the dedicated bowler, the sport is no joke. It is a heroic endeavor, a sacred ritual, and, when you’re all alone staring down the lane, forced to rely solely on your own mental and physical skills, it is a chance to challenge your only truly worthy opponent—yourself.

So the next time you talk to someone like me who mentions that he or she is a serious bowler, don’t laugh in that person’s face. Don’t laugh at the fact that I have my own shoes (they’re awesome), that I own my own ball (it’s emerald green and it says “Hammer” on it, so you know it’s tough), or that I carry that ball in a Philadelphia Eagles bowling bag that my mom bought me. It would be much better to be polite and then laugh as you’re walking away because you don’t want to mess with me. After all, I’m a serious athlete.

-Tim Arner, English

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