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Leagues not short on eager bowlers

Tuesday, October 26, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:59 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Let’s face it, bowling isn’t the world’s most fast-paced, spectator-friendly sport.

In fact, many participants spend more time drinking beer and smoking than actually bowling.

When Oakland Plaza Lanes closed this summer, some wondered if bowling was dying in Columbia.

After all, how could something as pedestrian as bowling compete with faster, trendier activities such as paintball and dodgeball?

As it turns out, bowling’s slow-paced tempo is precisely why it remains viable.

Columbia resident Britt Newby has competed in the same league on Mondays at Town and Country Lanes for the past 29 years, but competition is something he deemphasizes when discussing his tenure with The Honking Walnuts.

“This league is just for fun,” he said. “There’s prize money at the end of the year, but nothing to get real excited about. If you’re the last guy, then you might have a little pressure.”

Newby said the league’s handicap format, which essentially makes each bowler equally valuable to the team, accommodates players of varying skill levels and creates a community atmosphere.

“There are so many people I’ve met through this league,” he said. “We’ve had everybody through here from professionals, to blue-collar people like me, to retired people.

“If you’re not having fun, then you’re wasting your time. This is a time to see people. It’s really just social time.”

Merna Balke is a prime example of bowling’s social side. For the past 15 years, Balke has watched her Honking Walnut husband, Larry, bowl on nearly every league night.

“I like to watch Larry and tell him what he’s doing wrong,” she said. “He likes to have me there though. We always do everything together. He didn’t have to, but he quit playing golf because I couldn’t play anymore.”

Balke said she used to bowl five times per week. Although she no longer bowls because of a work-related injury, she said she still enjoys watching the game and seeing friends.

“I like to cheer the team on,” she said. “(The league) has had a couple of people die and people move away. It’s kind of interesting to see who replaces them. It’s sort of like a family.”

Evidently, many Columbians share Newby and Balke’s affinity for league bowling.

Steve Spaur, former general manager of Oakland Plaza Lanes, said the business was doing quite well financially when it was sold. However, Prime Development gave its owners an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“The property is worth more than the business that sits on it,” Spaur said.

Obviously, the alley’s closing has given its competition, Town and Country Lanes, more business. Unfortunately, Spaur said Town and Country Lanes cannot meet Columbia’s demand for leagues on its own. Because of overcrowding, Spaur said he estimates that about 250 to 300 people will be forced to quit their league.

Town and Country Lanes is considering expansion, but for now, the new late-night and weekend leagues will have to suffice.

According to Newby, his league is usually composed of 10 teams, but it expanded to 14 almost immediately when Oakland Plaza Lanes closed.

Clearly, bowling isn’t dying in Columbia.

And if you don’t like it, a couple beers might change your mind.


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