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Kegals, Kings and Kid’s Sports

by Cyndy Rodgers

What sport dates back to 5000 B.C., can be performed day or night in any kind of weather and is enjoyed by both adults and children of all ages? The answer is bowling. Are you surprised? Bowling is a sport for the whole family, young or old and independent of your ability. If you haven’t been in a bowling center recently you may be even more surprised.

Bowling establishments are no longer the dark, smoke-filled alleys of years past. Today most bowling centers are bright, professionally-staffed facilities using the latest in technology and many have designated themselves alcohol and tobacco-free environments. With this new face on bowling, centers around the nation are embracing homeschooled families. Case in point is the non-profit Bowling Proprietors Association of America (BPAA), which has been a leader in the bowling industry for more than 70 years. Their mission is to unite bowling establishments across the nation and assist them in how to best serve their community. BPAA also organizes tournaments, expos, educational seminars and community programs. One of these programs is the Home School Bowling Program, which aims to provide students the opportunity to earn credit toward their physical education requirement and scholarship opportunities as well.

If bowling has not topped your list as an option for P.E. why not give it another look? It is a fun, non-contact sport that has no age, size, strength or gender limitations. Students will gain confidence and develop athletic ability while enjoying a social experience. Because bowling is a group activity it teaches leadership and team-building skills. We like to think of bowling as the all-American indoor pastime, but maybe we should think again.

As I mentioned above, bowling can be traced back to 5000 B.C. Apparently, what seems to be an American leisure activity is really from Egypt! Historians discovered what appeared to be implements that resembled bowling equipment in an Egyptian tomb in 5200 B.C. According to Scott Berk & Mark Simple who wrote the "All too Long History of Bowling", rolling a ball to knock down targets has been the object of a number of games at different times and in numerous parts of the world.

It is also known that between 200 and 300 B.C., a version of the sport was practiced in Germany. It turns out this quintessential American pastime may have been spawned from a German religious ceremony. The story is that in the 3rd Century every German peasant carried for protection a Kegel, which looks a lot like the Irish club called a shillelagh. A custom developed where, as a test of faith, a parishioner set his Kegel as a target, representing the heathen. He then rolled a stone in an attempt to knock it down. If he was successful, he was considered free of sin.

The sport ultimately moved away from the church to a secular activity. The stones were replaced with balls made from wood and the target grew from one to many. Players began to use pins to replace the Kegel. Some used as few as three, others as many as seventeen. >From Germany, the sport spread into Austria, Spain, and Switzerland. By the 14th Century, the wealthy estates of Europe began putting bowling greens on their grounds. By 1450, the game was moved indoors. The first bowling facility opened its doors in London. Covered sheds with lanes made of wood or sun-baked clay were set up as medieval bowling alleys. The games must have been very popular because ten years later Edward IV passed an edict forbidding "hustling of stones" and other bowling-like sports. One hundred years later in 1555, bowling centers were seen as places of unlawful assembly and closed down by the government.

Still, the love of bowling never died. As English colonists began to settle in the New World, they brought the game over with them. In 1611, Captain John Smith, immersed in a world of problems, returned to Jamestown only to find dozens of hungry bowlers. He declared the sport illegal punishable by up to three weeks in the stocks. However, even with all these deterrents bowling enthusiasts persevered and by 1623, bowling could be found in the Dutch colony of New York. In 1670, bowlers finally found an advocate in King Charles and the popularity of bowling soared. Even so, its reputation was not family friendly. Back in those days the rules were different. The nine pins were arranged in a diamond, 1-2-3-2-1 pattern. The "alley" was usually a plank eighteen inches wide and ninety feet long and it required a great deal of skill to avoid what we today call a gutter ball. By the time bowling made its way to the 19th Century, most alleys were associated with taverns otherwise known as bars. This resulted in many townships trying to outlaw bowling and finally, in 1870, nine-pin bowling was banned due to its association with gambling and crime. Legend has it that during this era a tenth pin was added to get around the "anti-bowling" law. However, a town in New York had earlier prohibited ten-pin bowling as well, so exactly how bowling went from nine to ten pins is a mystery.

Twenty-five years later, bowling’s reputation was rescued. In 1895, the American Bowling Congress (ABC) was formed, and rules were standardized, with gambling eliminated. In 1901, 41 teams from 17 cities in 9 states competed in the ABC’s first National Bowling Championships in Chicago. As bowling became more entrenched into our society, it became Americanized and traveled back to Europe. Sweden was the first European country to take up American ten-pin bowling, in 1909. The sport gradually spread throughout northern Europe. A little while later, women got into the act. In 1916, the Women’s International Bowling Congress was established, and in 1927 Floretta McCutcheon beat World Champion Jimmy Smith. She later went on to open the Mrs. McCutcheon School for Bowling Instruction.

A year earlier in Europe, the International Bowling Association was organized by teams from Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United States. International tournaments were held in Sweden in 1926, New York City in 1934, and Berlin in 1936. During World War II, American military bases were prolific across Great Britain and within those walls bowling grew in popularity across Europe.Years later, back in the U.S., the automatic pin-setting machine was developed and by 1950 the machine debuted amidst great fanfare with a huge public relations campaign. More of America fell in love with bowling, many of them teens.

Beginning in the 1960’s, the ABC introduced bowling to the rest of the world. Along with help from equipment manufacturers, Australia, Mexico and other Latin-American countries, together with Asia learned about bowling. After hundreds of years in the world’s eye, bowling finally earned its very own shrine: the National Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum located in St. Louis. Bowling made history again when it became an exhibition sport at the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea. Bowling is now practiced by an estimated 50 million bowlers nationwide and thanks to the BPAA Home School Bowling Program you can be part of this history. For more information call 1-800-343-1329 extension 231 or go to  C.R.