Not your 'average' bowlers: Seniors, baby boomers fill the lanes in local bowling leagues

Saturday, June 5, 2010
Jim Bradley high-fives Larry Urhahn, left, after finishing a turn while bowling with the OWLS senior bowling league at West Park Lanes in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Thursday, April 22, 2010. At age 95, Bradley is the oldest member of the group, and has been bowling for 30 years. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

This story appears in the June issue of TBY magazine. Look for the magazine in the Southeast Missourian newspaper on Monday, June 7.

Ask any of the gray-haired competitors about their bowling strategy, and they'll insist they're no good -- or at least not as good as they used to be.

"I just try to throw the ball down the alley," says Jim Bradley, a 95-year-old who bowls on the weekly senior league at West Park Lanes in Cape Girardeau. "It's good exercise."

Dorothy Barker releases the ball while bowling with the OWLS senior bowling league at West Park Lanes in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Thursday, April 22, 2010. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

But on a Thursday afternoon in April, the bowling alley is filled with the sounds of flying pins and cheers, a testament to the fact that many of these OWLS -- older, wiser, livelier seniors -- boast averages near the 200-mark.

"Bowling is something you can do at any age, whether you're 4 or 95," says Darryl James, manager at West Park Lanes. "You can do it all your life." This past winter, the OWLS league had eight teams totaling 32 people, all age 50 or better. Most of the participants are regulars, says James.

Orville Warner, 75, of Cape Girardeau, has been bowling since 1952, when he and a bunch of other "kids" were looking for something fun to do. Now, Warner has been in the OWLS league for 18 years and also competes on a men's league and a Christian league. He is currently secretary of the OWLS and Christian leagues, and past-president of the men's league. His wife, LaVerne, is a bowler, too.

"It's a fun way for us old people to stay busy," says Warner, who carries an average of about 185. "It keeps me out of trouble and it keeps me active."

Warner says his only strategy is to have fun and not get mad or overexcited. "If you make a mistake, it's your fault, not the ball's or someone else's," he says. Some bowlers are competitive, says Warner, but in a good way.

"There's something about trying to knock the pins down," says Agnes Thurston, 80, of Pulaski, Ill., who was in the running for the championship this year. "There's a challenge to get that strike," she says. Thurston admits she's never been a talented athlete, but she has enjoyed bowling for about 35 years. She and her girlfriends have competed on leagues in Cairo and Anna, Ill., but joined the Cape Girardeau league three years ago because it meets early in the afternoon.

"As we got older, some of the girls said they didn't like getting home so late," she says. "It's good exercise and I like to be with people."

Larry Dowdy high-fives Freda Kassinger, left, and LaVerne Warner after getting a strike while bowling with the OWLS senior bowling league at West Park Lanes in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Thursday, April 22, 2010. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

This is also what motivates retired police officer Ed Barker, 65, of Cape Girardeau, to bowl each week. Because he often did shift work, he had trouble fitting weekly activities into his schedule. Now, he loves the opportunity to be active and meet new and old friends each week.

Though Main Street Lanes of Jackson does not have a seniors-only bowling league, assistant manager Jessica Maevers says many of those in the Thursday night mixed leagues are in their 50s and up -- including her husband's grandparents, Lester and Ruth Maevers.

"It keeps them active and is something they can enjoy all their lives," says Jessica Maevers. "I think a lot of them bowled as young children and have carried that through the years."

Seventy-year-old Ruth Maevers has been bowling since 1985, when a friend invited her to join a women's bowling league.

"I had bowled once before for a church outing, and I won a prize for having the most gutter balls. I thought I would never do it again," says Ruth, who lives in Jackson. Once she gave the sport a second chance, she enjoyed it so much that she eventually bowled for three different leagues. Now, Ruth sticks to the summer and winter mixed leagues at Main Street Lanes and carries an average in the "high-150s."

Ruth describes the league as "one big family" that values fellowship over competition. In fact, when she and her husband celebrated their 51st anniversary, they held a party at the bowling alley and invited all of their league friends.

Ruth also enjoys bowling with her own family, including her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. Her two 3-year-old great-grandchildren received their first bowling balls this year, and she hopes they will continue the family tradition. As for herself, says Ruth, "I plan to bowl as long as I am physically able."

Jim Coates retired in 1992, and that's when he began bowling on the Young at Heart senior league at Jackson Bowling Lanes, where he was fitted for his first-ever bowling ball and shoes. Now, the 70-year-old Jackson resident competes in the Thursday night mixed league at Main Street Lanes. Coates is a former tennis player who enjoys bowling because it's easier on his body and knees. Though the winter season is over, Coates plans to join a summer league and is also looking forward to nonsmoking leagues. And while he carries an average of about 170, he insists he's not a good bowler. Instead, he prefers the social aspect of bowling to the competitive side.

Deb Powderly celebrates getting a strike while bowling with the OWLS senior bowling league at West Park Lanes in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Thursday, April 22, 2010. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

"Well, first of all we all try to get there -- and then we just have fun and bowl the best we can," says Coates. "We have fun first and bowl second."

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