By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The Presbyterian Women's Bowling League rolls into its 50th year with the 2013-14 season starting Thursday at Frontier Lanes, 3524 N. Washington St. About 20 women are registered for four-member teams to play each week at 9-11 a.m. from September through May. New members and substitutes are encouraged to come out and give bowling a try. No experience is necessary and the group plays with all ability levels in the non-sanctioned league. Members do not need to be Presbyterian and there are women of all faiths having fun together.
“It's all about the fun,” Cath Fowler said. “Anyone is welcome — just call the church office — 405-372-5580. If a team doesn't have enough players one week, we give them a bye and round out the team with the Holy Ghost.”
Fowler's mom, Dona Cooper, founded the league with the late Jane Struthers who was the wife of long time Presbyterian minister the late Rev. Dr. James Struthers.
“We met in the church parlor with the bowling manager 50 years ago,” Cooper said. “He explained how a bowling league works and we just struck out on this adventure.”
Cooper said other original team members included Thelma Burton, Linda Williams, Evelyn Johnson, Jane Durham and Barbara Stunkel.
“Very few of us knew how to bowl,” Cooper said. “Some came to the first meeting enthusiastic, some with reservation and some at the point of a bowling pin.”
When Mary Williams moved to Stillwater from Wales, she had never seen a bowling alley. She's been bowling for 49 years now and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. In between her bowling turns, Williams knits and said she has met many wonderful people through the years in the bowling league. Her first average was 57 but within five years she was stepping up to the line to throw an all spare game and winning most improved bowler titles. The next year, Williams and several league members entered a city tournament with Evelyn Johnson and Jane Durham going all the way for first and second place.
Cooper documented the league's progress on the 25th anniversary saying:
“It takes a heap of bowling
on a lane to learn the sport.
A heap of gutter balls and you
sometimes must resort
To a few words of exclamation
before you hit a pin,
And just when you think you've got
the hang of it, you gutter it again.”
In 50 years, the group has seen many changes. When the group started in 1963, bowling cost $1.35 with not many mothers working outside the home and membership peaking at more than 40 bowlers. Now, league bowling each week is $7 for three games plus a shoe fee if needed. A portion of the money has always been donated to the trophy fund but the league does not purchase trophies. Instead, the bowlers collect the weekly donations and contribute the funds to church needs and other charitable causes.
For many years, the bowling alley offered free coffee and a free baby sitter to the league which was popular for young mothers. Although those traditions faded away, each team continues to create their own name with league groups calling themselves anything from Spare Angels to Divine Duds to Holy Rollers. Members have ranged from college age girls to 93-year-old bowlers. The fellowship of the bowling league was so important to the late Zelma Tinker that she continued bowling even after she was declared legally blind, serving as an inspiration to many bowlers, Cooper said.
The league continues to recognize birthdays and holidays with dress-up days for Halloween and Easter bonnets in the spring. When a bowler gets a “turkey” — bowling lingo for three strikes — league members shout out “gobble, gobble, gobble” and the bowler is entered in the turkey book. A sweet treat from the candy jar is awarded each time a team has a star frame.
Cooper said people have been bowling for more than 7,000 years with bowling games starting in the third century on church grounds where clergymen encouraged their flock to club the heathen out of their system by throwing a ball at a set of pins which represented paganism. Those who could knock down the pins were said to be of good character and were leading a good life. Those who missed had to do penance.
The good life is certainly represented with health benefits as Cooper continues to bowl in her 86th year seeing the lanes change from manual pin setters to computer generated scoring. She received recognition from President George H. W. Bush for regular participation in a sport throughout her life. League secretary Rita Breuninger has seen the health benefits for many members and said a body in motion stays in motion.
“We don't care how well you bowl,” said Rosetta Silver, Presbyterian Women's Bowling League president. “It's a very supportive group – and there's lots of camaraderie and fellowship.”
Cooper agrees saying:
“It takes determination to reach that blissful day
When your ball stays on that narrow alley — all-of-the-way!
It takes lots of time and practice, and coordination, too,
And then before you know it, you're knocking down a few.
There's just no denying that concentration helps a bit,
And soon you've improved so much, you're able now to split.
But hope springs eternal, and to quit you wouldn't dare,
because it was just bound to happen — look there — you made a spare!
And then red letter day — oh, you all know what it's like
Something clicks — a perfect ball, and everyone screams —
In the game of bowling there's one truth we all have found:
What good is any strike, if your friends are not around?
And no matter if your score is low, or you're league heroine,
If fun and fellowship come first, then everyone will win.”