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Bob Shannon: Age hasn’t improved my bowling prowess

I recently decided to try my hand at bowling for a church team. As a kid, bowling had been a wonderful pastime. I have very fond memories of knocking the pins down with my family on Sunday afternoons or with my friends on a “party” night out.

Years ago, some of the local bowling alleys offered “moonlight” bowling, which started after midnight, with neon-lit lanes and rock ’n’ roll music playing in the background. In the 1970s, $4 would buy you four games and shoe rental, and sometimes there would even be a pizza and soda deal.

You’d pay your money at the counter, get handed a pair of those overly broken-in stinky red and green rental shoes, a blank 9x12 scoresheet and a stubby pencil. Hopefully, at least one person in your party knew how to add and keep score, because there was no automated scoring or game monitors; it had to be manually calculated. It was exciting for me to return to a sport that offered so much nostalgic, youthful fun.

In my exuberance to sign up for the adult team, however, there was something very important that I forgot. This was not a sport I had excelled at as a kid, and now, as an adult, I have learned the results are exactly the same. I’m simply a lousy bowler; I just use a heavier ball.

Years ago, my competitive bowling strategy was to try to throw the ball as accurately as I could and minimize gutter balls. Today, my strategy is much different. Well, it’s the same general philosophy, but I just throw the ball a lot faster. Granted, I’m no more accurate or skilled with my shots, but I can achieve my monumentally poor scores that much quicker.

Of the many different bowling styles observed today, I am of the “smash-mouth” variety. I throw in a completely straight line – absolutely no curve – and as fast as I can. I figure if I can just get the ball in close to the head pin, I might be able to shatter a couple of pins and the trajectory of the broken pieces might then knock down a few more pins.

Some very sage bowling advice regarding my release speed, approach, hand position and follow-through techniques always becomes part of any discussion at the alley with me. It’s all great in theory, but try as I might, I just can’t seem to master it.

I did get a beautiful new bowling ball and my own shoes, something I couldn’t afford to do as a youngster, hoping that it would invigorate my bowling prowess and improve my average. And for two weeks, my game scores actually increased – by about six points. But it turned out to be a short-lived improvement. Now I’m back at lousy again, but at least my matching ball and shoes look very professional and stylish when I throw a 20-mph gutter ball.

I believe there is an official scoring handicap limit set by the U.S. Bowling Congress. Since I’ve taken up bowling again, the USBC might have to deregulate the limit and recalculate the margins. Maybe it should adjust the computation using the bowler’s physical weight. I might actually be good then.

Perhaps instead I should try to rejuvenate my golf game, but I haven’t picked up a golf club in 15 years. I wonder if they offer a minus-100 point handicap calculation for bad golfers these days.

Then again, maybe some youthful pastimes are indeed better left in the past.