Insert Bad Bowling Pun Here

There are some leisure activities that I do not particularly like. One fine example would be golf. This is because I do not understand a sport that will have a grown man waking up at 5 AM (on his day off), spend hours in an activity that would have a Bible believing pastor cussing and throwing metal objects, and say that they do it to “unwind and relax”. There are other activities that, while I truly enjoy them, I do not participate very often because I just absolutely stink at it. The example I will use for this writing is the wonderful pastime of bowling.

I find bowling to be a truly enjoyable activity. That is, once you put aside any germophobic concerns and rent a pair of uncomfortable shoes to play the game. Once you have done this, you get to hurl a sphere down a lane with the intention of knocking 10 pins down. Each regulation game has 10 frames with up to two chances per frame. The 10th frame offers up to three chances to knock down the pins. These means you have up to 21 chances to hurl the sphere, knock down the pins, and make the obligatory grandstanding gesture. As an added bonus, the grandstanding is not part of your score so you are not penalized if your Chuck Berry duck walk does not meet the approval of your audience. I mean what is not to like about this game?

Nevertheless, I do not bowl very often as I have never been very good at it. This is in spite of the fact that I was actually on a bowling league in 6th grade. Mind you, I think it was the league’s first year and to get on the team you just had to sign up. You only got “cut” once they ran out of spots. Still, if you are a student of Azalea Middle School in Mobile, Alabama and on the bowling team, you can now stated that you have read the work from one of the league’s pioneers.

Once a week, after school, we would take a bus to a nearby bowling alley. Each team in the league would bowl 3 games. The leader of our team was in the 8th grade and a very proficient bowler. He was very good at certain bowling techniques that I routinely failed. For example, he was very good at keeping his ball out of the gutter and actually knocking the pins down. He was also good at doing so while avoiding two things I did quite often – crossing the foul line or falling down. Actually, in one shining moment, I did both of those things. I formed my stance. I proceeded forward and began to hurl my ball down the lane. However, in doing so, I slipped and fell. Once I fell, I actually began to slide forward with half my body ending up across the foul line. Normally, my team leader was very stern and impatient about such things (probably because I managed to do this so often). This time was different. He came over, helped me up and asked me if I was OK. He then offered to let me bowl my frame over again. I curiously asked him why since I had, once again, fallen AND crossed the foul line. He then pointed toward the pins. I HAD KNOCKED THEM ALL DOWN. That’s right. I fell down, wound up across the foul line from my head to my waist, and got a STRIKE. I bowled my frame again, without falling, and knocked down a total of 2 pins. Clearly, lightning wasn’t striking twice here.

Yesterday, some 34 years later, I decided to go to the bowling alley for the first time in what must have been a good 10 years. The reason I did this is that I signed up for a corporate bowling tournament at my job to support Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I wanted bowling to be a recent memory before the tournament. I rented my pair of community germ ridden, uncomfortable shoes and selected my bowling ball. I looked up and, with humorous curiosity, asked God: How long will it take before I fall down in front of a bunch of 7 year olds having a birthday party to my right? God provided his answer – in the first frame. The number 10 pin was a routine victim in my practice as it was often the only pin I knocked down. It should be noted, however, that I knocked that lone pin down with great ferocity. In subsequent frames, I believe the other pins fell down merely as an act of compassion and kindness. I did manage to get a strike without falling or crossing the foul line.

I don’t think the other teams in this forthcoming tournament have much to worry about from the likes of me. Still, if I was a number 10 bowling pin, I’d start quivering with fear.


Come Out and Play

It is known that you can give two boys a stick and a rock and they will create a game within minutes. They will then spend another 45 minutes deliberating over the rules. What can I say? We males really dig games. I realize women do as well. After all, my wife could probably teach Marv Levy a thing or two about the history of the Buffalo Bills. She probably also has a better chance of throwing a completed pass but I digress. Sports and games are a huge part of American culture. Sports can bring out an esprit de corps that inspire people to shout at the top of their lungs, consume untold quantities of junk food, and spend a week recovering from the horrendous cold brought on by parading around while shirtless and painted in 12° weather. For example, I live in Western New York. As a native Georgian, I LOVE watching the Atlanta Braves (I know, who am I to take shots at the Bills?) I can walk the perimeter of the local mall wearing my Braves hat. There is a good chance that a random stranger will see me and shout: “CHIPPER JONES RULES! GO BRAVES!”

However, it should also be noted that sports are not just for the armchair athlete. You can’t go to school, church, or work without hearing somebody talk about their fantasy league. They have fantasy leagues for about any sporting event that come to one’s mind: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, auto racing, lacrosse, disc golf, croquet, bocce, darts, jai alai, or synchronized swimming. Actually I am not sure about all of those. I don’t think there is really a disc golf fantasy league.

Then you have the world of intramural sports. Most people have jobs that include some kind of sports league. This is designed to bring out that aforementioned esprit de corps amongst you and your co-workers. You may scoff about that funny, geeky guy on the other side of the cubicle wall. So what if he has the strange laugh and the annoying habit of clearing his throat. This doesn’t change the fact the he has a left hook that brings the company’s bowling league to a certain victory. Let the jerks from Ignoramacorp® continuously drink the last of the coffee in the break room. You’ll get even at the next paintball tourney. I even had one of my colleagues do some recruiting for a league at my job. He asked: “Shane, do you like kickball?” “Say WHAT?” I politely responded. He repeated: “Do you like kickball?” I responded: “I did in third grade.” He didn’t need my snotty remarks anyway. He quite successfully recruited enough co-workers to form a team without me.

While I am glad my colleague found a way to have fun and promote camaraderie, I can’t help but wonder — Where does it go from here? We have grown folks playing kickball on a self-formed league. You can even watch a spelling bee on a sports network. The worst part is, I run across this bee on the TV and suddenly I am unable to change the channel. I am suddenly shouting at an 11 year old girl for misspelling “colloquialism”. Next thing you know, there will be a commentator giving a play by play on a marbles game: “Welcome back from the commercial break folks. Tommy Smitherson is still dominating this round. We now have Scotty Jamison at the taw line. Jamison is returning after a histing controversy in 2008. He seems a bit rattled by Smitherson’s perfor…OH MY GOODNESS! JAMISON HAS LOFTED HIS AGGIE AND TAKEN THE TIGER’S EYE! THIS PLAYING FOR KEEPS TOURNAMENT HAS COME TO A SHOCKING AND SUDDEN END, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!” Great, I had Smitherson in my fantasy league.

Curling Up to the Olympics

I’ll be honest here; I’m not much of an athlete. Actually, to be truly frank, I’m barely qualified to be an armchair athlete. Like many red-blooded American men, I enjoy living vicariously through somebody else doing all the athletic work. I was thrilled to see the New Orleans Saints win their first Super Bowl. I have even experienced the thrill of seeing my beloved Atlanta Braves play at Turner Field. I have even taken my kids to see our local minor league baseball team (Rochester Redwings).

On top of all those great aforementioned experiences, I would be remiss if I did not speak of the Mardi Gras of sporting events; the grand-daddy of them all — The Olympics. This is the great armchair event to which our eyes, hearts, and spirited are treated every four years. Well actually, it’s every two years. You see, you get the Summer Olympics then you get the Winter Olympics two years later. Two years later, it’s the Summer Olympics again etc. This writing takes place in 2010. Therefore, I get to watch the Winter Olympic Games which are hosted in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I get to experience watching such great medalists as Apolo Ohno, Johnny Spillane, and Bode Miller. My blood pumps and my adrenaline flows at the thrill of watching the biathlon, the luge, and (wait for it) curling.

For the unlearned, curling is not an Olympic sport for cosmetologists. It is not even a form of weightlifting. Curling takes place on a flat sheet of ice. One player slides a big rock on the sheet of ice toward the center of a bull’s eye target. While this rock (actually called a stone) is sliding toward the target, two other players, each holding a broom (Honest, it’s a broom) sweep the ice ahead of the stone’s path in an effort to guide it toward the center target. These athletic sweepers can even guide the stone to knock their opponent’s stone away from the center target. By the way, did I mention that this is an Olympic sport that has many countries competing for a medal? If I had known I could rise to THAT kind of greatness, I would have been quicker to clean my room as a kid. I could have stopped my parent’s nagging and trained for the Olympics simultaneously.

As I sit and watch this sport (so deemed by the International Olympic Committee), my mind is full of questions:

  • Why is it called curling in the first place? It’s bad enough we have athletes with brooms. Couldn’t they have called it something like Nordic Rock Ice Sliding or Highland Floor Darts?
  • Are there kids somewhere with a poster of a curling team on their walls? Are their curling trading cards? Is there some kid trying to negotiate a trade for a 1976 Gery Kleffman (which will probably cost a 1981 Jürg Tanner and a 1979 Morten Sørum)?
  • Are there endorsement deals for curling athlete? Is there a box of cereal somewhere bearing the likeness of a curling champion with a wide grin and thumbs up pose?
  • I noticed the player wearing protective eyewear. WHY? Forgive my ignorance but it’s not exactly a contact sport.
  • What happens in the off season for curlers (is it OK to call them that?)? Do they audition for a role in “Stomp”?

I don’t know if any of these questions will be answered. I may have to just sit and enjoy in silent ignorance. After all, it will all be over soon for another four years (or is it two?). I’d like to take a moment and apologize if I have unintentionally maligned or offended any curlers (that is hard to say with a straight face). May you all play your best and sweep your competition (Did you really think I was going to let that one get by?).