The senior bowlers who meet and compete at Skyline Lanes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons have many things in common.
Most are between the ages of mid-60s to late 80s, and they treasure the companionship and camaraderie they share with each other. They thrive on the competition, whether it is to help their team finish the season near the top of the roster or to improve their personal averages to meet a goal they have set for themselves.
And, of course, they love — or hate — the game, depending on how well they perform on any given day.
One Thursday team, “Fab Four,” is typical of those who find the friendships they nurture rewarding. In their case, as it is with many others, their spouses, significant others, children or grandchildren have died, and they’ve returned to bowling shortly thereafter.
Verna Weaver, a league bowler for four decades, lost her husband several years ago.
“I didn’t see any point in sitting home alone after he died. How was that going to help?” she said.
Team member Ruth Owens, who has had two husbands die during her bowling career, competes in two senior leagues and a nighttime group.
“People acknowledge your loss, but they kind of depend on you to return to your team, too,” she said.
Angelo Harris, a senior bowler since retiring 20 years ago, has survived two wives and a son. He rejoined his teams (he bowls Tuesdays and Thursdays) a short while later, because bowling and seeing friends is a return to a sort of normalcy after a tragedy.
“It is much better to get out and be with people,” he said.
And Billy Cazalas, whose wife, Gloria, passed away a couple of years ago, summed it up with this statement, “When you lose someone you love, you are depressed and lonely. I found that being here (at Skyline) helps a lot. The people I bowl with are supportive and friendly, and I feel at home here.”
Competition is a big part of the game. Many seniors in their 70s and 80s still carry averages of 160-190, but others who fall short of that tally today do not want their scores broadcast. Cacilia Cassinelli, who turns 90 this summer and who received an award for her recent 200-plus game, was willing to be interviewed only if her average — “not nearly as good as it used to be” — was not mentioned.
These bowlers choose not to receive trophies at the end of the season, they’re long past the stage of collecting statuettes. They prefer appropriately divided prize money at year’s end, though awards are given for such milestones as most improved, high handicap game and high scratch game.
The men and women who make up the 14 four-member teams on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. and the 16 Thursday teams have differences, as well as likenesses.
Some have been retired for many years while some still work part- or full-time. John Drago, for instance, is 91 and still gainfully employed two full days a week, which, he said, “beats staying home.” Richard March, retired Honeywell plant manager, owns a real estate company and works full-time.
While the average age of the bowlers is around 75, several are 90 or older. Some have been bowling a few short years; others have decades of competition behind them. An example of longevity is Buddy Stapleton, 91, who’s been at the game since 1942, except for a stint in military service and his years at the University of Alabama.
For some, bowling constitutes their primary exercise, while for others, it is just one factor in their desire to keep fit and healthy.
Ruth Owens, following the “If you snooze, you lose” premise, has her own credo, and it applies to many of the other seniors.
“If you stop, you drop,” she said in explanation of why she not only bowls but does all her own yard work.
Angelo Harris lifts weights twice a week and others walk several miles on a regular basis or head to the gym after two hours of bowling. Perhaps one of the greatest similarities among these bowlers is that they are still very much engaged in life and in being with other people.
Bobby Ellis, 68 and carrying an average in excess of 190, bowls in a league with his young grandson. “It’s something we can share,” he said.
Volunteerism also plays a big part in the activities of these seniors. March gives time to Providence Hospital. Jerry Suiter and Bob Roy spend hours in activities pertaining to their churches and, during the summer, are volunteer coaches for youth bowling leagues. Some work the polls; some read to elementary school children; some become mentors for youngsters.
Companionship, exercise, and competition aside, there are a few other benefits to bowling on a regular basis. A couple of younger female bowlers, who preferred not to mention their names, said they have learned from those 30 years their senior how to handle the adversities that come with aging.
“We see how they go on after the death of a spouse, how they cope with health issues, how they gracefully handle defeat, when they have to,” one said. “These are lessons we may not get anywhere else.”
Renee Herr, secretary for the Tuesday Seniors League, has observed another benefit: the high self-esteem that results from the bowlers’ making the effort to be at the lanes, on time, week in and week out — always dressing nicely and looking their best.
The women, she said, put on make up and fix their hair, while the men are always clean-shaven.
“I believe that many people who don’t participate in regular activities in their later years will not get up and shave or apply make up. Those who do feel better about themselves and, I think, tend to be happier and live longer,” Herr said.