A Bowling League of Our Own

Bowling--the thrill of victory doesn't have to be vicarious

| January/February 2000

I felt a rush like I had personally just won the World Series!" said Al Glanz, a paunchy 51-year-old attorney. "Only in bowling can an out-of-shape middle-aged short guy win that kind of victory." Glanz, a college-days SDS comrade and current lead-off man of my five-person bowling team, Al's Animals, was remembering our 1997 league championship.

After 38 Tuesday nights of competition against 17 mixed-gender teams, we Animals found ourselves in the final roll-off matched against some big bruisers. Miraculously, we split the first two games. And, going into the 10th and last frame, we were neck and neck. Al bowled two strikes and finished over 150. In the anchor position, I beat my 198 average.

As 100 league members looked on, the opposing team's anchor, Big Kahuna, was shooting his 10th frame. Apparently he miscalculated the narrow difference between us and—grossly overconfident—whipped his 16-pound Code Red ball out toward the lone 10-pin standing on the back right-hand corner of the alley. Hubris has a price: The Kahuna's ball angled sharply to the 5 board and, skidding in the conditioning oil, failed to stabilize, then plunked unceremoniously into the gutter three feet short of the pin.

The electronic tote board flashed our one-point victory as we basked in applause and cheers. After the awards ceremony we left elated, with armfuls of trophies and $287 in prize money. A year later we still talk excitedly of our razor-close win.

Such are the wonders of organized, serious bowling. I'm the only team member with a high average. At the time of our championship, Al hadn't bowled in 25 years and had worked himself up to 125. Team member and printer Miki Jurcan was a first-year bowler averaging 137. Bookkeeper Kim Yoh shot in the high 150s, and her developmentally disabled brother, Dale, in the 140s.

But bowling is the most democratic of sports. You play in your own neighborhood, with teams drawn from networks of friends or co-workers; the squads are often mixed gender and usually mixed generation. It's relatively inexpensive and easy to learn (at least the basics). But most important, 95 percent of bowling leagues rely on the socialist notion of handicap--a formula that adjusts for differences between teams. We won the championship against much better bowlers not because we outbowled them but because first they had to "spot" us 65 pins a game, and, this time, we outbowled ourselves. From each according to his ability...