After listening to teachers lecture for several hours, Spruce Elementary School pupils like nothing better than to knock down a bunch of bowling pins.
For the past month, all children -- kindergartners through sixth-graders -- have been doing just that because physical education teachers Robert J. Keohane and Lori Rogers started a new bowling course that simulates the real thing. And it's a course that could be rolling into more school districts next year.
Using five 20-foot-long carpets that look just like bowling lanes -- arrow locators, 10 sand-weighted plastic pins and all -- the pupils, like soldiers in a military drill, use a 4-pound rubber bowling ball and try to roll up a nice score.
There's always the fear of the dreaded gutter ball, which results when a ball rolls off the carpet.
"It's a great activity for the kids because bowling is something they can do at any age," Keohane said. Another perk, he said, is "it costs us nothing."
The owner of the Tonawanda Bowling Center is lending the district five lanes, the balls and the pins so each local elementary school can use them during the school year.
Len Pimm said he purchased the bowling sets for about $400 each.
He said Spruce Elementary, to his knowledge, is the first school in Western New York and possibly in the state to take part in the program.
"This is a national program we've been working on with the National Bowling Proprietors organization for the last four or five years . . .," Pimm said. "We're doing this for two reasons. One is because it gives kids a good time. But we are also hoping to develop bowlers for the future. So it's an investment for us."
He said the Buffalo Public Schools recently let him know it has set aside $25,000 to buy the bowling kits for all its schools, and he is scheduled to meet with Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District officials about the program.
Because there are 475 Spruce pupils, Rogers said each class also sets up five of its own lanes where pupils can roll balls at five pins on the wooden gym floor.
Rogers said she likes the bowling program because it requires pupils to use math skills during three different types of games: regular bowling, team bowling and bingo bowling.
"We are hoping the district will purchase five to 10 of these lanes so we can keep doing it every year [on a full scale]," she said.
"I like it because you get to bowl, and I barely ever get to," third-grader Jeslyn M. Zakes, 8, said. "It's fun because everyone's always cheering for you when you get a strike or a spare. I get strikes a lot of times."
One of her teammates, Matthew Wolnough, 8, said the tough part of playing with Jeslyn is chasing the pins.
"I have to pick up the pins and set them up. It's hard work because she's a hard bowler. She hits the pins so hard that she knocks them too far away, and I have to chase them."
While many might think bowling is not really a sport that offers much physical activity, Keohane said, it is great exercise and worthwhile for physical education classes.
"The average adult bowler burns 240 calories per hour," he said. "Bowlers use 134 muscles during a basic four-step approach [to the foul line before they throw the ball]. Three games of bowling equals one mile of walking, and bowling is a weight-bearing sport, which builds strong, healthy bones."
Spruce pupils may get an even better workout than an adult bowler does at the neighborhood lanes because they are hard at work even when they're aren't actually bowling. That's because pupils have to serve as pin chasers, pin setters, ball returners and score keepers, Rogers said.
"The kids leave here exhausted when they're done," Keohane said. "It's fantastic."