Bowlers deserve respect for succeeding at their SPORT


As an avid bowler at Fairmont High School, I hear a lot of questioning about whether or not bowling is really a sport. Personally, I’m getting a little tired of it.

The only time I hear bowling get the attention it deserves is when a bowler goes to great lengths and throws a perfect game – that’s PERFECT, as in flawless. On the other hand, a basketball player may get recognized for scoring 20 points, even if he only made half of his shots.

I believe bowling is the most overlooked sport of all. A lot of people discredit bowling, saying it’s more of a hobby or leisure activity. Too many people think that bowling is just getting up on the lane and trying to knock over 10 pins every time. Yes, that’s the basis of the game, but to say that the sport is just knocking over pins is absurd.

Bowling is a sport that requires physical stamina, precise mechanics, proper equipment and the ability to “read” and respond to a number of variables that change throughout the course of a game.

Physical stamina and mechanics

Most high school bowling tournaments take more than 5 hours and involve at least 8 games. Throwing a 15-pound ball for 8 games takes stamina, and being physically in shape is a must.

But if the physicality of bowling doesn’t impress, then consider the mechanics of the sport. If bowlers don’t have consistent mechanics, they become sporadic in their aim. The styles of bowling include the traditional one-handed approach as well as the new two-handed style that’s sweeping the world of bowling. There’s also great variety in the number of steps a bowler takes to get to the foul line. Most bowlers use a 4- or 5-step approach, but the first rule of bowling is there are no rules. I know bowlers who use 6 steps, and professional bowler Wayne Garber uses a 9-step approach.

Regardless of your style, the key is to get your body and your arm swing to the foul line at the same time. Putting those two things together is the only way to ensure release and targeting consistency.

The mental gymnastics of bowling 

And then there’s the mental grind of bowling, which can be compared to putting a 1,000-piece puzzle together under pressure. Many recreational bowlers have no idea all of the factors a serious bowler must consider. The avid bowler knows he must take into account ball choice, lane conditions, oil patterns, ball angles and pin carry.

Ball choice: Unlike baseball, where athletes usually use the same bat every time they go to the plate, or tennis, where a player uses the same racket for a year, avid bowlers usually update their equipment about every three months. They do this in order to remain competitive. Bowling ball manufacturers are constantly competing to have the best new cores and cover stocks for balls in order to create more hook and friction. Manufacturers also modify balls to stay up to date with all the new oil patterns used on the lanes.

Aside from purchasing new equipment, serious bowlers are also well aware that every time they go to the lanes, they may not throw the same ball. Bowlers must be able to think quickly to figure which ball will give them the best chance to score well. Ball choice is the key to scoring well on different oil patterns.

Lane surface: About 30 years ago, every bowling alley featured wood lanes. The “heads,” which is the first 20 feet of the lane past the foul line, was pure maple and the last 40 feet of the lane was pine. The reason they used two different types of wood was because the first 20 feet of the lane is subject to the greatest wear and pounding because of bowling balls being lofted onto the lane. Maple is a very strong wood that could take the pounding of the balls hitting the lane. The rest of the lane was pine because it was cheaper than maple but it also accepted the oil better because it’s a softer wood.

Wood lanes have faded in the sport because of the maintenance they require. Every center that had wood lanes had to sand down the lanes to compensate for the difference in densities in the sides of the lane. (Over time, the right side of the lane would have a different thickness than the left side because of the greater percentage of right-handed bowlers.) The easiest solution for the centers was to get rid of wood lanes. In many cases, they’ve been replaced with synthetic lanes, which are made out of wood-grain plastic and veneer. A veneer is a thin slice of wood, usually about 3 mm thin.

Oil patterns: Many recreational bowlers may be unaware of the fact that the surface of the lanes is treated with oil. The reason oil was applied to wood lanes was to protect the surface, and that purpose hasn’t changed. Bowling centers oil the lanes as often as they want to, but usually the lanes are oiled once a day and then always re-oiled for league bowlers.

But the oil on the lanes forms patterns that the serious bowler has to figure out. The oil patterns can be very different. The typical oil pattern is 40 feet long and has regular volume for the pattern to “break down.” This is the oil pattern used for open bowling, but the oil can also be applied in sport patterns. The sport patterns can vary in length anywhere from 33 feet to 47 feet and the volumes are different on every pattern.

The catch of figuring out oil patterns is that they can never been seen and they’re always changing. So if a person bowling on a sport pattern figures out the oil pattern, the chances are that he or she will have to change their approach very soon.

The “breaking down” of the oil pattern may mean the oil is moving down the lane; this is called carry down. On synthetic lanes, the oil goes down the lane more easily because the oil can’t soak into the plastic veneer. On wood lanes, the oil soaks into the pine. The oil can also disappear altogether, leaving nothing between the lane and the ball and thus causing friction. Friction is what makes the ball hook.

When you are open bowling with your friends and trying to get the ball to hook from gutter to gutter, two things have to take place. Lane friction is one and wrist action is another. For the ball to create friction, the ball must have revolutions. The cover stocks of the bowling balls these days are incredible. The cover stock of a bowling ball is the outer surface that reacts with the lane to create friction to control the amount of hook in the bowling ball.

Ball angles and pin carry: A golfer can hit the perfect shot, and the ball will be where he or she wants it to be. If a quarterback throws a perfect pass, it will go where he wants it to go. In bowling, however, a bowler can throw a ball perfectly into the pocket and still not knock down all 10 pins. Why? Because he didn’t get adequate pin carry.

Pin carry refers to the action of a pin moving around the lane after it is struck. How much pin carry a bowler gets has everything to do with the precise angle the ball hits the pins and ball speed.

The bottom line

I hope any recreational bowler reading this column is beginning to appreciate the sport of bowling. Those of us who play the game competitively work diligently to solve the intricate challenges bowling presents, and we’d really appreciate it if folks would stop taking our sport so lightly.

The talk of bowling not being a sport is outrageous and needs to stop. Fairmont’s Boys’ Varsity Bowling team is the most successful team at Fairmont, having earned the highest winning percentage — 0.901 percent — in the last 5 years.

So how about a little respect?