More than 50 years ago, a young woman received a donated bowling ball. The ball, which had chinks on its surface and a hole that was made for a man’s hand, was the first Blanche Deal ever owned.
Deal, 91, a native of Marshall, began her bowling career at a six-lane makeshift bowling alley. She was 27 the first time she rolled the old ball at the pins at the far end of the lane. Bales of hay were placed at the end to stop both the pins and ball.
At her first tournament in 1952 in Springfield, Mo., Deal took along that old 15-pound ball and scored a 205. Five or six years later, she donated the ball to another woman and bought another in Kansas City.
Since then, Deal and the teams she has competed on have bowled in at least 12 different national events. In 1972, her team won the state games in St. Louis, beating out more than 885 other teams from across Missouri.
Deal says she has enjoyed her decades of bowling.
“I just get a kick out it,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of fun.”
Her bowling career hasn’t all gone smoothly, though. In 2005, Deal fell at the lanes in Marshall and broke her left arm. The injury didn’t prevent her from competing in the Missouri State Senior Games, though it slowed down her approach to the line.
“You don’t have to do all that running, really,” Deal said.
Deal, a self-proclaimed sports enthusiast, has played basketball, baseball and tennis and enjoys swimming.
“I loved anything in sports,” Deal said, “I think that’s the reason I’ve kept myself going.”
But for the past 58 years, taking part in competitive bowling with her close friend, Ann Collier, has been a mainstay. The two met at Deal’s father-in-law’s gas station and became fast friends. She and Collier even taught bowling to children for 10 years.
Initially, Deal says “getting strikes” is her favorite part of bowling, but after a quick smile, she reconsiders.
“It’s good exercise and you’re always trying to beat somebody,” she said.
Deal, Collier and their team will be in Columbia on Saturday for the Missouri State Senior Games. Deal said this will be about her 11th time competing at the games. She said it’s the companionship that keeps Deal coming back year after year.
“I may go down there, bowl and do really good,” she said. “If I lose, I say, ‘I’ll get you next time.’”