By Sue Fernandez
ANNAPOLIS – Forget the stadium deals, Art Modell and pro football. Duckpin bowling is the hot sports issue state legislators will be grappling with this week.
A bill that would make duckpin bowling the state’s official indoor sport will get a hearing Thursday before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Duckpin bowling may seem a frivolous issue when compared to other things such as gun control or tax cuts. But the bill is no spare item to thousands of duckpin enthusiasts around the state.
They say the sport deserves recognition because it originated in Maryland and is an affordable activity anyone can enjoy.
“People from age 2 to 105 have fun doing it,” said Patti Koros, who has been duckpin bowling since she was a kid.
She met her husband at a duckpin bowling alley, and now she and her sister work for the National Duckpin Bowling Congress in Linthicum. Maryland has more than 50,000 sanctioned duckpin bowlers, Koros said.
Duckpin bowlers tried in 1991 to pass a bill that would have their sport replace jousting as the official state sport. But jousters successfully lobbied to defeat the measure.
“I heard they had a little girl dress up as a jouster and prance around before the lawmakers, and that’s how they won,” Koros said.
Sen. Edward Middlebrooks, R-Anne Arundel, sponsor of this year’s pro-duckpin measure, said that addition of the word “indoor” gave the bill a much better chance of passing.
“The bill’s sole purpose really is to make all the bowlers out there happy,” he said.
But Middlebrooks pointed out the sport’s economic impact on Maryland. The state made an estimated $900,000 in taxes from billiards and bowling in the 1993 fiscal year, according to the comptroller’s office.
Thomas Ohlendorf, a member of the Baltimore Duckpin Bowlers Association, said duckpin bowling deserves to be honored because it’s accessible to most everyone regardless of age or economic status.
“When you look at various forms of entertainment you have, … baseball, football … it’s the cheapest form there is,” he said.
At most of Maryland’s 36 duckpin bowling alleys, it costs around $2.50 to play one game. Renting shoes costs about $2.25.
Other duckpin devotees give more aesthetic reasons for recognizing the sport. For one, it originated in Maryland. Local lore has it that duckpin bowling was invented by John McGraw, a Baltimore Orioles baseball player in the early 1900s.
“Team members played the game to keep their pitching arms in shape during the off-season, and 10-pin balls were too heavy,” said Erica Cochran, 22, assistant manager of Fairlanes Southwest duckpin bowling alley in Linthicum.
Duckpin bowling is scored and played basically the same way as 10-pin bowling. But the pins are smaller, the ball is smaller and has no holes, and the number of bowls per turn is three instead of two.
Enthusiasts say lighter balls are harder to control and make the game more challenging.
“When you roll the ball, you never know what’s going to happen,” Cochran said.
Southwest Fairlanes’ bowler Kim Vaughn, 48, of Essex, said the game’s challenge makes it addictive. She has been duckpin bowling since 14.
“It makes you angry, yet you keep coming back for more.”
On a recent Thursday night, Vaughn was bowling for The Terminators, one of six teams in a league set up by her company, Mercantile Bank & Trust. Mercantile players gather around a few of Fairlane’s 40 lanes once a week after work to bowl, drink beer, eat pizza and socialize.
Wrapping her 2-inch pink fingernails around a ball, Vaughn stepped up to her marker and paused to concentrate on the pins before giving the ball a hard roll down the shiny lane. She knocked down six pins her first turn, then made a spare on her second.
“Way to go, Kim!” said co-workers, giving her high fives. Vaughn ended up bowling a 113, a pretty good score for a duckpin bowler (women average between 105 and 115 and men between 115 and 125), but the first place Terminators still lost to Without a Clue, another company team.
Despite losing, Vaughn remained in good spirits.
“Even if you lose playing, you have fun here,” she said.
Fun is precisely the reason Vaughn wants duckpin bowling to be recognized. “If it can’t be the state sport, I’ll be happy it’s the state’s indoor sport,” she said, “just as long as duckpin bowling gets some kind of recognition.” -30-