Bowling is back in New York. After roughly five months of mandated inactivity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, keglers can finally knock down pins at local centers beginning Monday.
But area proprietors, league administrators, league bowlers and tournament regulars are concerned that the drastic changes in effect will be hard to cope with logistically for serious competitors. Most centers will not immediately open until they receive more guidance on safety regulation. Normally, fall leagues, which run for 30 to 34 weeks, start the week of Labor Day. Most centers offer a week of free bowling in late August as a way to prepare for those leagues.
“I’m thrilled,” said Sportsman’s Bowl co-owner and general manager Paul Adkins. “That’s a good start. We’re waiting to hear more from the governor’s office as far as protocols. They are kind of vague at this point.”
Among the new guidelines for the sport released Friday are 50% allowed capacity at every center, masks worn while inside the establishment, using only every other lane for competition and food/beverage service by staff delivery to the lanes only. There will be no congregating at the bar. Bowling equipment will be constantly sanitized, and all players will be required to remain on their pair of lanes without roaming around the center to socialize.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Adkins said. “How do you bowl every other lane during league play? Are the leagues going to be able to do that? The USBC [United States Bowling Congress, the sport’s national leadership body] made it legal four or five months ago. But I’m wondering how we are going to do it. Does that mean in a three-man league I’ve got to put all six players from both teams on one lane? Or do we have to break it up and put one team on one lane and the other on another pair. Then they will be bowling on different conditions.”
Adkins said his 28-lane center has more room than most, especially in the settee area behind each pair of lanes. But he anticipates challenges on his normal busy league nights.
“I’ve got all 28 lanes used on Monday nights normally,” he said. “We are definitely hoping they come up with more guidelines for our league play. Our opening day will definitely be later on in the month. We won’t start on Monday.”
Towne Bowling Academy proprietor Marty Capullo Jr. has mixed emotions.
“I’m happy to be back, but you really can’t operate leagues the way they are talking about right now,” Capullo said. “I would think that we would have to tweak the guidelines, talk it over with them, and maybe make some changes. Eighty percent of my business is league play. I can’t really operate like that right now, but at least we’re opening. We will all have to do what we have to do and all pull together in this.”
Carol Judge, proprietor of Spare Time Latham, part of the Bowl New England corporation, said her center will open no earlier than Aug. 28.
“We haven’t received much guidance so far, and we want to hear a little more before we make a lot of the decisions,” Judge said. “I know all the proprietors are thrilled. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”
Boulevard Bowl is one of the largest centers in the Capital Region with 40 lanes. Owner Mike Scaccia is guardedly optimistic about the reopening.
“With only 50% capacity allowed, there are still a lot of question marks, but I’m happy to be opening,” Scaccia said. “My biggest concern is how to coordinate my leagues. There are a lot of questions. With all the stipulations in place, we are not opening Monday. It will take a while. But I am going to open our bar and restaurant, probably on Wednesday. I will limit my hours in the beginning.”
“We will do what we have to do,” Scaccia continued. “We want everyone to be healthy. We don’t want to have people getting sick in our place. We use gloves and masks. Keeping our place clean is just another part of the job. That’s all. We probably won’t have as many house balls available, but most bowlers have their own equipment anyway.”
Scaccia added that the popular Blizzard Bowl, a tournament that was in process at the time of the shutdown, will be completed next month.
“There are still some teams that paid and are waiting to bowl,” he said. “We will try to get back to normal.”
“It’s about time,” added Boulevard manager Craig Smith.
Steve Renzi, former president of the Schenectady Bowling Association and currently its treasurer, is also the secretary/treasurer of the Sportsman’s Majors, one of the region’s top scratch leagues.
“Well, it’s going to be interesting to see how it all rolls out,” Renzi said. “I’m wondering if there will be more guidelines in writing on Monday. I’m still hoping things will be a little different than what they’re calling for in terms of league play. Open bowling is just for fun, and the rules can be different. But in our league, I’ve got 12 teams. If we bowl every other lane, we will use 24 of the 28 lanes available. What will the other leagues do that night?
“I’m OK with a lot of the stipulations. Most of us have our own stuff, and all of us are competitive bowlers, so we always look one or two lanes over, left and right, for courtesy before we bowl. The great thing about Sportsman’s Bowl is there is so much room for social distancing. From what I see, though, the proprietors will need some time to get things ready. I would think that they would defer the opening of their leagues for a while to see how it all works out. Hopefully, we will see a level of normalcy.”
Serious scratch league bowlers and those who compete in tournaments are also excited about the turn of events, spurred by lobbying from both the proprietors and the bowlers themselves.
Rotterdam native Liz Kuhlkin, a member of the Professional Women’s Bowling Associatio,n as well as a competitor in two scratch leagues at Towne Bowling Academy, is also a board member of the USBC. She is very happy to be back bowling, but she won’t be able to participate in what she loves doing the most in her favorite sport — bowl in tournaments.
“The way it affects me now is that I can finally practice regularly again so I can get back to where I was,” said the former collegiate bowler of the year at Nebraska and two-time winner on the PWBA Tour. “I’ve only bowled 3-4 times in an actual bowling alley, and that’s the longest I’ve gone without competitive bowling. It’s been an adjustment, but now I can start practicing and working out. But the problem for me is that because of the NYS travel ban, I still can’t bowl in tournaments out of the state. There’s one going on in St. Charles, Missouri right now, and I can’t be there.
“That’s disappointing, but I’m choosing to focus on the positive. New York State is bowling again, and the league season is coming up. It will be an adventure trying to figure out how to do that with all the regulations, but I’m excited for my friends that own alleys and bowl in them.”
Kuhlkin said she was concerned that smaller centers, like her home center at Towne Bowling Academy, will have difficulty following the new regulations when it comes to league bowling.
“There’s going to have to be more discussion with the governor and his staff about what to do with the leagues,” she said. “I don’t think they understand the league equation. I think the only way 50% occupancy can work is with double shifts, and I can’t see that happening. If you are bowling on every other lane and you’ve only got a few lanes, that can’t work.”
“But I’m over the moon and excited with the opportunity to bowl,” Kuhlkin added. “Hopefully, as time goes on, there will be some adjustments made.”
Schenectady Bowling Association president Bill Nolan is curious how all the new regulations will work. He said his office still needs some supplies from the USBC, but that the local association should be able to get the appropriate paperwork in to start league bowling.
“From our standpoint, what we do in the office won’t change, and the processes won’t change,” Nolan said. “By USBC rules, the leagues can still bowl on just one lane of the pair, and they can also split their league up by having half of the members bowl on one night and half on the other, if they have to. They can compete on different days and at different times. Plus, any league members that want to withdraw from their league because of COVID-19 can do so.”
Nolan, like most of the proprietors and serious bowlers, is concerned about what will happen with the larger scratch leagues and local tournaments.
“At least the leagues bowl on the same lane throughout the night,” he said. “But nine out of 10 tournaments change lanes as part of their format. Right now, that wouldn’t be allowed under the new guidelines. I’m hoping we will hear more guidelines from the state. Right now, it sounds like there is some ambiguity as to what leagues will be allowed to do.”
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter