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Milt Northrop’s Bowling column: Buffalo association helping keep local league bowling alive.

The demise of bowling as a competitive or recreational sport is being lamented in this world with ever-changing interests, entertainment pursuits and where many interpersonal relationships are electronic or not personal at all.

Thirty or so years ago, league bowling in Buffalo was a popular activity. Some bowling establishments on busy nights ran two full shifts of bowling. Not so any more. Not only are there fewer leagues and bowlers, there are fewer houses to hold them.

Consider this: in 2005-06 there were 33 establishments associated with the Greater Buffalo USBC Association. Now there are 27. Gone are very active institutions such as Thruway Lanes, Sheridan, LeisureLand and Rose Bowl for various reasons, but mostly because they became more valuable as commercial real estate. Before that, Suburban and Amherst fell by the wayside.

In 2005-06 the Greater Buffalo USBC had 14,446 total members including 8,395 adult members. There were 294 adult leagues, 48 youth league and nine senior leagues. In 2014-15, the association counted 9,547 members, 8,318 adults. There were 173 adult leagues, 39 youth leagues and nine senior leagues.

During that 10-year span, the association lost 4,899 members, 121 adult leagues and nine youth leagues. A lot of the decline was caused by the loss of popular venues that were conveniently located. Part of it can be because of changes in lifestyles and the growth of other recreational activities such as running, recreational volleyball, cross-country skiing and a declining population and a demographically different population.

Those statistics don’t represent the entire picture in Western New York. Not included are such popular establishments in Erie County as Tonawanda Bowling Center, Classic Lanes, Manor and Manor II Lanes and Island Lanes of the Tonawandas USBC Association, or the Brad Angelo Lanes or Allie Brandt Lanes in the Lockport USBC Association and the Niagara Falls USBC Association.

Through all the upheaval the sport is going through, the Greater Buffalo USBC Association has been a solid rock in keeping the sport alive. The GBUSBC was formed in 2005 when the old Buffalo Bowling Association, Buffalo Women’s Bowling Association and Erie County Suburban Women’s Bowling Association merged. It followed similar mergers on the national and eventually on the state level.

The Greater Buffalo Association sponsors and runs most of the major tournaments in the area − the Open Championship, the Women’s Championship, the George A. Obenauer Masters, the Kick-off Tournament and men’s and women’s senior and youth championships as well as a Family Tournament and a League Officers tournament.

A bowler’s first career 300 game and 800 series are honored with a ring, plaque or crystal, and subsequent honor scores are kept as part of the official bowler record.

The association does more than hand out awards and organize and run championship events, most of which are operated with the help of a corps of volunteers.

“We maintain a local office for our league officers and bowlers who prefer personal assistance with their league applications, rules interpretations, and other league issues,” GBUSBC manager Bill Palumbo says. “We also help leagues deal with members who fail to pay dues, and other rule violators.”

The association is run by a board of directors that includes a president (Greg Merkle), vice president (Elaine Koszuta), proprietor representative (Eugene F. “Whitey” Heidenburg), 10 directors, four youth directors and four auxiliary members.

The GBUSBC also is responsible for the integrity of facilities.

“Each lane in the association is measured each season to make sure they are within proper specification. This includes gutter depth, pin decks, pin spots,” Palumbo points out.

Additionally, the proceeds from the association’s annual April fundraiser have been donated to various causes. The total has amounted to $110,000 since 2005 not including another $13,000 donated by member leagues.

Somehow and GBUSBC and other local associations have managed to survive without a pay raise since 2005. Annual adult dues to the United State Bowling Congress are $18 of which $7 goes to the local association and $1 to the state association. Basic member dues for short-season league bowlers are only $11 total.

AMF houses safe

A year ago, the local bowling scene was dealing with rumors that the popular AMF Thruway Lanes in Cheektowaga would close because the property was being sold. That turned out to be true.

This week, AMF Bowling Co. distributed a letter to its “Loyal Western New York League Bowlers” dealing with rumors about the future of AMF Lancaster and AMF Airport Lanes, popular houses that have taken up a lot of the slack left when Thruway closed last January.

“Your AMF Centers are not going anywhere,” AMF told local bowlers.

Rumors have been circulating that Lancaster would be sold to make way for a Trader Joe’s market and that nearby Keller Chevrolet would expand to the site where AMF Airport is situated.

“We’re committed to you, league bowlers − and we hope you won’t let false rumors spoil a fantatstics bowling experience,” the letter said in closing.

High finishes

Two local youth bowlers did well last weekend in the Michelle Shafer Memorial Scholarship held at Crystal Lanes in Corning last Sunday. Sara Snyder of Depew finished second behind Haley Groat of Mechanicsville and earned a $750 scholarship award. Snyder is the New York State Queens champion in the Classified Division and the Section VI girls individual champion.

Dana Voytovich of Cheektowaga, a freshman at Erie Community College, was third in the boys division won by Sam McDonald of Elmira. Groat and McDonald each received a $2,500 scholarship. Groat then defeated McDonald in a challenge match for an additional $250.

In all $9,450 in scholarships were awarded in the tournament held in memory of Michelle Shafer, the late wife of PBA Tour bowler Ryan Shafer.