SALLYS IN OUR ALLEYS
The hand that rocks the cradle now trundles the ball that topples the maples in a feminine invasion of the bowling alleys
A FEW short years ago when bowling was a game that called for 10 big pins, a 16-pound ball and a hairy-cheated man to roll the latter
at the former you were about as likely to find a woman bowling as you were to find her playing hockey for the NHL.
But times have changed, and if you don’t believe it you either haven’t been in a bowling alley in the past few years or else you’re living in an all male community. Today the girls are out in force, sliding up to the foul line, rolling the ball with a will and shouting with glee as the pins clatter to the floor. It’s generally accepted that there are now as many women bowling across Canada as there are men, and that means thousands of women according to the men who ought to know—the proprietors of the alleys. Those same gentlemen estimate that approximately one person out of four in the larger towns and cities bowls at least occasionally and that there are a good 800,000 people in Canada who can be classed as dyed-in-the-wool bowling fans.
The female invasion of the game started when tenpins went out of favor and fivepins came in. That was back in the mid-twenties, although the game of fivepins was first introduced to a waiting but not too excited public in 1909 by the brothers Ryan, a pair of Toronto bowlers who thought it was time for a change. History does not record whether or not the Ryan boys designed their game with an eye to the ladies, but whatever their intentions they wound up by producing a sporting delicacy that the fair sex has all but gobbled up whole.
Under the Ryan regime the 16-pound ball gave way to a three-and-a-half-pound replacement, the number of pins was cut in half, the pins themselves were reduced to about half their former dimensions and each one had a rubber band around its middle to make it livelier and to keep the ball from rolling ineffectively between it and its next-door neighbor. As a result players found, and this appealed particularly to the ladies, that good scores were easier to make and that bowling alleys could be pleasant places to spend an evening playing with pleasant people.
Now the ladies play with men on mixed teams, have leagues of their own and even have a large and growing section of the Canadian Bowling Association all to themselves. What’s more, they’ve mastered the sport to such an extent that the average score of a good lady bowler is only 15 or 20 points lower than the 240 or 245 that a man must consistently score in order to be considered really top flight.
Mabel McDowell, Toronto, president of the ladies’ section of the CBA and one of the best of the timber
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topplers in any league, says that any girl can be a good bowler if she really wants to, even if her hands are doll size and she’s never before engaged in any sport more active than a quick kiss on the living room sofa.
“There are some natural howlers,” says Mrs. McDowell, “but they’re the exception, not the rule. Most girls taking up the sport for the first time will find they’re not very good at it but they can and will improve quickly if they bowl regularly.”
A right-handed girl, to be in proper balance when she bowls, according to Mrs. McDowell, should step out with her left foot, take a step with her right and then slide a little on the next step with her left foot forward. Her right arm should swing forward with the ball as far as it will go; she shouldn’t drop the ball at her feet with a bang and a bounce. If she remembers the steps, the
slide and the follow-through she shouldn’t have any trouble making a passable score.
“That is, of course,” smiles Mrs. McDowell, “if she remembers to hit file head pin every time.”
Hit the Head Pin
All howlers get around to that point sooner or later. If you can hit, the head pin you’re home free; it doesn’t matter whether you know anything about the theory of the game or even if you know what league you’re bowling in. Hut try to do it!
A game of fivepins— by far the most popular variation of the bowling sport in Canada with both men and women— consists of ten “frames” in each of which not more than three balls are howled. If all pins are down after the first ball you’ve scored a “strike.” If two balls knock them down it’s a “spare.” Both strikes and spares give the bowler a chance to count extra points in the next frame, and thus bolster his score. If you bowl strike after strike you wind up with a perfect score of 450 and a lot of envious stares from your friends and acquaintances. If you don’t score strike after strike— well, you’re just like every other bowler.
In the more than 15 years since the Canadian Bowling Association was founded less than a dozen men have bowled perfect games, and no one is on record as having done it twice in league competition. So far none of the ladies has rolled up a perfect score, although several of them have come within a few points of doing so. Scores of 300 or slightly better have become fairly frequent among women as well as
men, but a game that approaches 400 is still considered an event in the life of any bowler. Much more common than a near perfect score, in the experience of most bowlers, is a near zero, caused by an off day, an inexplicable loss of co-ordination or, as some insist, with only the semblance of a smile, the evil eye.
Women, as a general rule, are freer from these slumps than men. While they don’t roll nearly so many high scores their game is usually more consistent, for some reason that is yet to be found.
But come back to that dream world for a moment and assume you do make strike after strike. You do it by hitting the number one pin which stands at the head of the V of five pins. When the ball hits the head pin both pin and ball knock down other pins until the cupboard is bare. Sometimes, that is. Other times the head pin flies straight back into the pit and the ball rolls merrily after it. That nets you one point and leaves you the delicate problem of knocking down the number two and number four pins with your second ball and the number three and number five pins with your last. Whatever happens you must get number four, the “blow” pin; otherwise you don’t score a point for that frame.
Furthers High Scoring
That brings up the rather complicated question of a revision of the scoring system, a step that some bowlers consider to be imperative, while others claim it will ruin the game. Under CBA rules the pins are numbered so that one arm of the V contains numbers one, two and four; the other has one, three and five. The revised system, which is being used in some of the western provinces, makes number five
the “blow” pin and puts it at the head of the V. Behind it numbers one and four make up one arm, numbers two and three the other.
George Weale, Toronto, a past president of the CBA and chief champion of the proposed new system, points out several reasons why he believes it’s time to change the rules. “The object of the game,” states Mr. Weale, “is to make a high score. To do that you must make a number of strikes. This, in turn, depends on your ability to hit the head pin. If you can do that consistently you’re a better than average bowler and should be rewarded by a better than average score, even if you do sometimes pick the head pin out by itself or just manage to clean out one arm of pins in a frame.”
As the game is officially played now, cleaning out the left arm gives you seven points and the “blow” pin;
cleaning out the right arm gives you eight points hut no “blow” pin, so that you actually don’t score at all even though you’ve bowled just as well, or just as badly, depending on how you look at it. Under the new system each arm is worth ten points and each arm has the “blow” pin.
The changed system, it is maintained, raises average scores by only about ten points a game but, as Mr. Weale claims, it gives that increase to the bowler who hits the head pin consistently. “The new scoring,” says Mr. Weale, “is scientifically sound. If Tommy Ryan had a scientific basis for his scoring when he invented the game, especially for the idea of making number four the ‘blow’ pin, then I wish somebody would explain it to me; I can’t see it.”
A good many other bowlers agree with Mr. Weale that the game would benefit from a change of rules, but most of them are less vocal in their support of the new system. Bob Duncan, a perennial executive of the CBA and a bowler of more than local fame, has this to say:
“The new scoring is a logical development in the progress of the sport. No one can be adversely affected by it, and all good bowlers, both men and women, can expect to see their scores improve when the change is made.”
To give the new system a trial, a number of Toronto bowlers are urging the CBA to adopt the revised scoring system for the annual CBA Spring Tournament. Proponents of the changed system believe a thorough trial will convince sceptics of the advantages of the revised count.
On the other hand many bowling enthusiasts, including the alley owners and managers, don’t want the scoring system changed. They claim it would slow up the game by causing more three-ball frames. The bowlers like a faster game just because it’s more fun, purely “pour le sport.” The managers, of course, have a more practical reason; the faster the game the more games in an evening, and the more games the more money.
Bowlers who take the game seriously belong to a league of some kind, whether it is a church, club or business group. The cream of the bowlers, both men and women, play in the big-time “city” or “major” leagues. Many teams have a company as sponsor, who pays for the bowling and derives a certain advertising value from whatever prestige the team can win.
One sponsored team, the King Edward Ladies, Toronto, for two years held the ladies’ world record with a three-game score of 3,691. Just last fall, on Oct. 6, the Olympia-Gerrard Ladies, long a rival club, broke the record with the creditable score of an even 3,700. But the triumph was shortlived. Only a week later Central Ladies, still another rival group in the same city, rolled up the excellent score of 3,811. The girls seem to be improving fast.
That’s a fact, according to Mrs. McDowell. “I’ve, been bowling for a long time now,” she will tell you, “and I’ve never seen such scores as there have been this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the record were broken again once the good bowling weather comes.”
It may surprise you to learn that there is such a thing as good or bad bówling weather, but the best bowlers insist this is so. “On a nice, crisp, winter day,” says Mrs. McDowell,
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“the pins fall quickly and sharply. Good scores are easier to get. If it’s dull and humid, on the other hand, the pins seem sluggish and won’t fall or fly properly at all.”
I tried one night, not long ago, to find out at firsthand just what it is that makes women—and for that matter men—like the game of bowling so much. The men I approached seemed to take the attitude that I was trying a new angle to bilk them out of their playing time and steal their alley. Mostly they just looked me up and down and said something like, “We like to hear the racket when the pins fall. Now, on your way, chum.”
Good Fast Action
The ladies, on the other hand, opened up and gave me a few good reasons. Most of them said that bowling appealed because it was a game of good, fast action that didn’t demand too much violent exercise. They also liked to think that here was a game in which they could make high scores without taking lessons from a professional. One or two, obviously of a very practical turn of mind, said it was a good way to spend an evening without using up too much of the boy friend’s working capital. Another girl, of even a more practical turn, told me in strictest confidence that she had lost 13 pounds since she started to bowl and that she regarded the game as a practical example of the old theory of diminishing returns.
If you’ve never tried your hand at the game but intend to, Mrs. McDowell has a bit of bowling advice that may be useful to you, particularly if you’re a girl and aren’t too confident of the might of your delicate arm. “Bowl for the shadows,” she says. “You may never have noticed, unless you’ve deliberately looked for them, but the shadows of the pins lie straight up the alley toward the bowler and they extend a good third of the way to the foul line. If you look at them and then bowl between shadows number one and number two or between shadows number one and number three you better your chances of getting a strike. That’s because your point of aim is much closer to your eye.”
It works especially well, she claims, for girls who are just learning. Many
of them get a bit of an inferiority complex when they first try because the ball seems so heavy and the pins seem so far away. Using the shadow system they still have to bowl as straight and as hard but it doesn’t look as difficult.
Ollie Miller, a tall, smiling girl who is generally conceded to be in a class by herself among the lady bowlers, has a few tips to offer which might be useful to girls who will be playing the game for the first time this winter.
“The most important thing of all,” Mrs. Miller says, “is shoes. Don’t bowl in high heels. You can’t slide and you can’t bowl your best game. Besides, you may turn your ankle and merely succeed in hurting yourself when you should be having fun.”
Real bowling shoes, with soft soles and rubber heels, she claims, aren't very expensive and are worth plenty to any girl who expects to spend much time at the game. If you only plan to bowl occasionally and don’t want to bother with the real thing, then wear a pair of low-heeled sport shoes.
“Another thing worth some attention,” she says, “is your dre.ss. You can’t bowl in a tight skirt, but one that’s too flaring isn’t any good either. A tight one will keep you from bending and sliding properly and a flaring one may get you all tangled up just as you’re about to let go of the ball.”
Mrs. Miller thinks that the most important factors in becoming a good bowler are an even temperament and the ability to relax and realize that, after all, bowling is only a game. “It should be fun,” she says, “not a chore. If you work at it too hard and blow up when you miss or get deadly serious every time you get near a bowling alley you won’t have much fun and you won’t do very well at the game. And, what’s more, you won’t be much fun to play with.” She also points out that a bowling alley is no place, these days, to practice that ancient feminine custom of being late.
Aside from the fact that there aren’t enough alleys to go around in most communities and the dearth of pin boys, the war hasn’t produced many serious problems for bowling fans. The only cause for complaint among the followers of Canada’s most indulged in sport seems to be that somebody else is always using all the alleys. The game, they say, is getting too popular, that’s all!