Bowling shirt tradition rolls along in some leagues

Bowl sharp and look sharp — those are the two chief rules in the Vitalo Classic bowling league.
Veteran bowler John Mango of Rotterdam owns Mango's Day Care and sponsors bowling teams. Here he shows some of the Mango's shirts from recent years.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Veteran bowler John Mango of Rotterdam owns Mango's Day Care and sponsors bowling teams. Here he shows some of the Mango's shirts from recent years.

Bowl sharp and look sharp — those are the two chief rules in the Vitalo Classic bowling league.

Men and women wear bowling shirts when they go on strike Saturday nights at Sportsman’s Bowl in Schenectady. It’s a requirement that many leagues have dropped over the years, but Dave Mennillo Jr. said his league has always believed in a dress code. It all started with Steve Vitalo.

“Steve was always a stickler on everybody looking dapper,” said Mennillo, the longtime league secretary.

“We’ve had rules in this league about pants, we don’t wear dungarees, we don’t wear shorts, we don’t wear hats. Steve always wanted the league to present itself a little bit better than all the other leagues, and over the test of time, I think it has. It’s one of the best leagues in the area, it had a lot to do with him just wanting us to look proper.”

Mennillo was dressed in his striped, lilac-colored bowling shirt, a collared, golf-style shirt with the usual three buttons at the top. The embroidered “Aces’s” on the right sleeve told competition that “Ace’s Coffee Shop” — really an old bookie joint that closed long ago — was on the lanes.

“It doesn’t make me bowl any better,” joked Mennillo, 68, who lives in Schenectady. But he and league members — not all — are glad they suit up on the weekends.

Thing of the past

Gone are the days of the embroidered names on the front of the shirts, a bowling bowl with a smiling face scattering fearful bowling pins on the back. Frank DePalma, longtime proprietor of DePalma’s Screen Printing and Embroidery in Rotterdam, said leagues used to buy shirts for their teams. Many decided the expense just wasn’t necessary.

“I used to do hundreds of bowling shirts,” said DePalma, also a veteran bowler. “Now I’m lucky if I do 100. It’s just the way things are. People are more economic.”

Mennillo and longtime league member John Mango say the simple bowling shirts, in a wide variety of colors, have been the standard for years now.

“The cost got out of hand,” said Mango, 64, who bowls for Vitalo league leader “The Zoo,” a Schenectady pet store specializing in reptiles, birds and fish. Mango, who lives in Rotterdam and owns Mango’s Day Care, sponsors teams in other leagues.

Mennillo believes the shirts have also declined in popularity because younger bowlers don’t want to wear them.

Benefiting sponsors

In the past, he added, it was a great way for an advertiser to spread the word about his or her business. Even the league would throw some sponsors a little business, if restaurants or banquet halls were involved.

“You’d want to support them with a mid-season banquet or an end-of-the-year banquet,” Mennillo said. “You’d always try to help the sponsors who sponsored in your league.”

For “The Zoo,” sponsors get a little extra free publicity because the team is leading the league. And that has meant occasional headlines — and free publicity — on newspaper sports pages.

If any of the 42 league members forget the Saturday shirt, they must deal with consequences. Rule breakers face a $2 fine.

Steve Renzi of Burnt Hills saves his money. He’s happy to wear his royal blue “Danny’s Irrigation” shirt every weekend, a nod to the sprinkler system company that sponsors his team. The name is embroidered high on the shirt front, and comes with a wave of water underneath.

“I keep it loose and it’s comfortable,” Renzi said. “For this kind of competitive league, you want to show some professionalism.”

An orange, smiling worm is the symbol for the Wiggly Worm Bait Supply shop in Ballston Lake. The three guys on the team wear green collared shirts, and love their corporate mascot. “This was a hit, right from the start,” said Fred Marx of Ballston Lake. “It caught everybody’s attention. People say, ‘We’re bowling the worms tonight.’ ”

Jay Diamond, who along with Mango and Mark Ray are the Zoo guys, doesn’t wear the team’s current model. He prefers one of the Zoo’s older shirts, a navy blue job with red lettering. “It’s the only time I wear it, just for Saturday night bowling,” Diamond said.

Not a big fan

Jodi Musto, one of the few women in the Vitalo get-together, casts a negative vote.

“I hate bowling shirts,” she said, dressed in the black-and-red outfit for Traditional Builders, which includes a name or nickname near the back right shoulder. “They’re men’s bowling shirts, so they’re not comfortable for women.”

Everyone’s a comedian when Musto campaigns against conformity. “Everybody gets fined $2 for not wearing their shirts,” Mennillo said. “Jodi gets fined $5.”

“Mine is a woman’s shirt,” jokes Traditional teammate Jason Deitz. “And it’s very tight.”

But Musto is serious. Bowling fashion equals zero on her scorecard. “I don’t think it’s very fashionable to have to wear the same shirt every week,” she said.

The City League rolls Monday nights at the Towne Bowling Academy in Rotterdam. League secretary Mark Ray said sponsors pay team’s entry fees. Wearing the shirts gives the small businesses a small return on investment.

Guilderland’s Carol Crandall is OK with the routine. “You don’t come dressed scrubby, I guess,” she said, dressed in her black Bellevue Builders Supply shirt.

Marty Capullo Jr. bowls for Towne, whose shirt design actually does show a bowling ball annihilating a bunch of pins. Scratch leagues — where bowlers receive no handicap — still wear shirts. Handicapped leagues, not so much.

“We’re a team, we want to look like a team,” said Capullo, whose family owns Towne Academy. “In my mind, that’s what a team is supposed to look like.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

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