Bowling is the true everyman sport. However, changes to the game as of late have bowlers everywhere worried about the future of the game of kings. These transitions are already taking place and a whole new generation of bowlers will never know the game their fathers and mothers did unless action is taken. Suppressing the thirst for expansion of the game that too many bowlers show is the only way to keep tenpins a sport for everybody.
In an attempt to sound more family appropriate, chain operated alleys and even some locally operated ones are now called 'centers'. Inside, there are now more and more arcade games, as well as overpriced fast food and snacks galore. Smoking lanes are becoming less and less prevalent. Some places are doing away with alcoholic beverages, with most 'centers' designating an area for it's consumption.
You may ask, why does having a more family accommodating place of bowling recreation pose a problem to bowling's future? Wouldn't this be a welcome change?
The answer is yes and no. The center's self proclaimed family-consciousness is only an illusion. This is really an imbalance where the existence of most bowling alleys located in a super-fun-land type of place cater exclusively to children and whoever is paying for them. Yes, bowling is now wonderful for families who don't know how to naturally enjoy time with each other. Now, all they have to do is open up a phone book and find the nearest "family fun center" so pop can drop a stack of cash and feel better about his relationship with the kids who cruise around in go carts and thoughtlessly hurl polyurethane balls down a synthetic lane as he enjoys a cold one in the designated bar area and Mom goes shopping next door.
On the flip side, in another city where tenpins is unadulterated, a father and mother might go out to their weekly bowling league and get a friend to watch the kids. While at the bowling lanes, this couple connects through a common physical movement and calming conversation with themselves and others. This is why Mom and Dad come home relaxed. The effects of this weekly bowling league are restorative, therapeutic even. Doctors should write prescriptions for it. Benefits of a bowling league for parents are clearly passed along to the children, especially if the kids sign up for a league of their own.
That's right, a league just for kids. Of course there are basic sports like baseball, football, and soccer, but for parents who want the most level playing field available for their child, bowling is without comparison. A child can easily get into the game renting shoes and a ball and parents never need to worry about their child getting enough playing time.
Another huge problem imposing on the old fashioned values of bowling is the desire many have for bowling to be just like every other sport by regulating every single aspect of the game for professionals, and sometimes even amateurs. Governing bodies, lane regulations, membership fees, league authorities, and equipment codes are all tripwires in the modern game. How can tenpins be enjoyed with so many hang-ups?
One may argue that at least the actual game play never changes, and that at the heart, bowling is still bowling. The reality is that nearly every bowling alley today is switching from real wooden lanes to synthetic ones, with mind-numbingly accurate lane oiling schemes. This is what makes a bowling alley unique. The average person must note that a bowling lane is oiled, and usually of a wooden or synthetic build. A ball catches, or hooks, depending on these factors, as well as how the ball is rolled. Even with bowling being a consistency sport, how is the game to be enjoyed with these circumstances the same everywhere in the country? A good comparison would be baseball or football fields across America suddenly being required to have the same amount of blades of grass in each stadium. Then the stadiums would need to be enclosed so the temperatures could be the same in every city. Ridiculous for baseball and football? Ridiculous for bowling. Imagine a chain dominating the golf course circuit until the layout and par of every golf course was the exact same, to the point where the person playing was essentially in a virtual reality, unable to tell the difference between a course on the coast, a round in the Rockies, or the links in Lincoln Nebraska. Outrageous for golf? Outrageous for bowling.
This brings us to what is perhaps worse than the outsourcing of bowling alley management from what was once entrepreneurial genius to what is now hollow upper echelon mass management. Maybe even worse than the decrees dominating how bowlers everywhere should play the game.
I'm talking about…
The American Bowler
Not all American bowlers, but many. Just listen to them, a typical dialogue between two common bowling Americans will touch on such topics as how great it is bowling's on TV every Sunday now, how not enough teenagers are in bowling leagues, why Nike should manufacture bowling equipment, the scholarship somebody would have won if bowling were an NCAA sport for men, and so on.
Suppose bowling became huge, about as big as baseball. Big cities would start making teams or squads. The Pro Bowling Association would make more rules and regulations. Kids would grow up idolizing bowlers like some do pitchers, running backs, or power forwards. Nike would surely make a shoe, maybe even eventually a ball. Prices for bowling would likely lower, as there would be many more lanes, each offering exactly the same to the eager public trying to get their piece of whatever it was that made bowling big in the first place.
What the bowler doesn't understand is that the very absence of hours of bowling on ESPN, the lack of bowling teenagers, and the impossible dream of top name athletic companies making bowling gear are exactly what allows these two American bowlers to bemoan their sport's fate at a dimly lit table in a family owned bowling alley and roll their bowling balls down barren, beat-up wooden lanes.
I've been there. Four of us out of my high school of 1500 were there every week for four years. I'm pretty sure every time we talked at least a little bit about how great it would be if everybody knew how fun bowling is. It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized many of them do. Birthdays and lazy weekends allow for that. Other people just don't love it as much as we do. And maybe that's why in our hearts, we want to keep old fashioned bowling the way it is now. A secret.