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Spare Time!/Big Fun for Pee-Wees at Turner’s Bowling

by Nathan Oravec

“League bowling is a dying sport,” says Linda Williams, Director of Sales and Marketing for Turner’s Bowling Centers in Hagerstown. “A lot of alleys [across the country] have been closing down.” While Turner’s, she notes, continues to thrive - operating a total of four area centers - Hagerstown’s recreation staple is something of a rarity. “We’re probably the only town with three bowling centers in one city.”

With adult attendance at the alleys having dwindled over the years, eyes have turned to a new generation in hopes of reviving and reinvigorating a long-loved American past time - a league not much taller than the tenpins they stand-off against. “In order for us to keep going,” Williams continues, “it is important to get the kids started early.”

Turner’s Pee-Wee League, hosted at Long Meadow Bowl in the Longmeadow Shopping Center, officially launched last year - the “brainchild,” Williams says, of Center Manager Ray Turner who approached her with the idea for a bumper league. Bumper Bowling, explains Williams, is essentially duckpin bowling, using smaller bowling balls and lanes equipped with bumper rails, eliminating any chance of gutter balls. Ideal for the younger crowd, the setup educates children on the basics of bowling in a non-intimidating fashion - keeping discouragement low by keeping the ball on the lane.

While Turner had originally suggested a starting age of three years for the first season, Williams, thinking it too young, countered with four; catering, she notes, to an entire group of individuals who are generally left sitting on the sidelines. “Usually kids that age have [no sports] to get involved in.”

Letters were mailed to any and all day care centers, churches and child-friendly locales announcing the formation of a new league, while advertising was initiated in the local news.

The first season for the Pee-Wee League began on January 4, 2003 and ran for fifteen consecutive Saturdays, culminating on April 12. An instant success, the League garnered 64 members, ages 4-7, in its first outing. The result was so great, in fact, that the proposal for a summer league was raised. A survey was soon sent out to gauge member interest. An overwhelming response sealed the deal. Extending the age group from 3 to 8, the summer session ran on eight additional weekends, from May until June that year.

To date, the League has bowled three seasons, and recently launched its fourth on February 7 with an impressive roster of 96 bowlers and an extensive waiting list of kids eager to join. This season will run for nine weeks, ending in early April.

The entire experience has been a great boost to the company, says Williams, who since starting the league has easily - if not deliberately - slipped into dual roles of league director and coach. “I’m a grandmother myself,” she says, “so I take great pride in this league. I’m here every Saturday morning, down on the lane, helping the kids, teaching them how to clear out deadwood and how to reset for the next player.”

Each week, she explains, the league awards both high and low games, “so the little ones don’t feel defeated.” Also incorporated is Strive to be a Star, an incentive program awarding shiny medallions to top game players. Those with a low game are awarded a novelty “poo poo” cushion for a “poopy game,” says Williams - bringing levity, and one can imagine, wide spread giggles, to what might otherwise be a bummer. Regardless, everyone gets a prize from the “All Star Box” for trying his or her best. “Every week we see them getting better and better. They’re very pleased with themselves.”

From the sound of things, Williams and Company deserve an All Star prize for their dedication to the league, an effort that has reaped good business - and a good feeling - for Turner’s and Long Meadow. “You should see our bowling center on Saturday mornings,” she exclaims. “It’s packed! You can barely get through because of all of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles coming to watch their little ones.”

“It’s a great thing for us.”

For more information, including season start dates and times and membership fees, contact Long Meadow Bowl at 301-766-4006.

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