Demise of bowling is sad but predictable

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    This is the time of year when my bowling hand gets itchy.
    I haven’t bowled in a league for about five years, but I expect to get a call from a team or two looking for a sub — preferably, a low-average bowler.

    That’s me. I like candlepins but was never very good at it. I’d rejoice at anything over 110. I think my career-high score was about 165.
    Since I have night meetings to cover along with my twice-monthly Elks Lodge sessions, finding an open night to bowl can be tricky. So I usually decline.
    Unfortunately, it appears that I’m in good — or bad — company.
    Nationwide, bowling seems to have spiraled downhill. According to the Chicago Tribune, the number of Americans participating in bowling leagues since 1980 has plummeted from 9.7 million to 1.7 million. Candlepins, a New England mainstay, also seems to be waning in popularity.
    Youngsters don’t seem to be embracing the sport anymore. I guess when you’re used to navigating an X-Box 360 that wipes out 1,000 Klingon warships in five minutes, rolling a ball toward 10 stationary objects isn’t that exciting.
    My 43-year-old son still likes to bowl with the old man once in a while. We usually hit some lanes in the Portland area including one with nonstop rock music on the loudspeakers, great sandwiches and a good selection of draft beer.
    Just about anyone living in Dover-Foxcroft knows the sad tale of Rocket Lanes, later known as Starz and Strikes and Northern Lights Entertainment Center.
    Every time I drive by the brick building with the caved-in roof, I remember socializing with some of the guys on league nights. Bowlers came from all over — Dexter, Guilford, Milo, Brownville and even farther away.
    The local establishment went through a few operators in a relatively short time and Gary Niles — who put in two theater screens to help boost revenue — closed the center in 2003, due to the stagnant economy and probably a diminishing number of bowlers.
    A few years earlier, a Greenville man — Ken Ingalls — proposed bringing bowling back to his hometown, but efforts to purchase a lot in the town’s industrial park failed.
    Locals tell me that there was a bowling alley on Lily Bay Road where Morrell’s Hardware is located now, but it burned down. There were also some bowling lanes in the basement of Leisure Life Lounge at one time.
    It would seem logical that Greenville could support a small bowling alley, considering that people need something to do in bad weather. But I guess we’ll never know.
    The center in Pittsfield where I bowled for the NAPA team was also lost to a fire in 2001.
    Eventually, some teams rebooted when Newport Entertainment Center opened a few years later while others faded into candlepin history. The new modern facility doesn’t have the weather-beaten charm of the old place in Pittsfield, but it also includes a huge arcade and indoor horseshoe pits.
    In any case, I haven’t given up on the sport completely.
    I may get another call about rekindling my candlepin skills this fall.
    The itch is still there. I just have to make time to scratch it.
Mike Lange is a staff writer with the Piscataquis Observer. His opinions are his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of this newspaper.

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