Alley hosts international bowling event
Last weekend, Big 20 Bowling Center, a candlepin bowling alley at 382 Route 1, hosted the 23rd annual Ladies International Team Championship.
The tournament,which took place on Aug. 4 and Aug. 5, was won by Mass Eagles. Travel Anywhere, took second place and MD’s Maineiacs, which bowl out of Big 20, finished in third place.
Mass Eagles and Travel Anywhere were made up of bowlers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
“This is the best of the best,” Big 20 co-owner Mike Walker said as the tournament got underway on the morning of Aug. 4. “The atmosphere is great. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
“Our girls did great. They won all four games on Sunday to stay in it and finish third,” said Walker, a Scarborough native who still lives in town.
The team, which has been bowling together for five years, includes Brook Anton, Angie Davis, Renee Lowell, Kim Kangras, Allison Perry and Amanda Carroll, who helped to organize this year’s tournament.
Rick Jones, who bought the bowling alley with Walker a year and a half ago, said in the 1950s and 1960s Big 20 was “the largest and most prestigious” bowling center in the state and hosted many world championship and state championship matches, but none on the world championship level over the last few years.
That changed recently.
“Two years ago we were selected as the permanent host of the World Singles Championships in October. We couldn’t be more proud to be able to bring championship bowling back to a place where championship bowling used to be synonymous with our name,” Jones said.
The Ladies International Team Championship, Jones explained, showcases some of the best candlepin bowlers from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada.
“The competition is always fierce. You never know who is going to win. No one runs away with it,” said Jess Bain, a member of the Tri-City bowling team and resident of Aylesford, Nova Scotia. “There are a lot of great female bowlers here.”
Mary LeBlanc, of Saint John, New Brunswick, came up with the idea to hold a ladies’ tournament in 1988 as a way to showcase the talents of female bowlers. The first tournament was held in New Hampshire in 1989 and now switches between sites in Saint John, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
LeBlanc said rotating it every year helps to keep the tournament fresh and exciting.
“We need to keep it going and the only way we can continue to do that is to rotate it every year,” said LeBlanc, a member of NB Challengers.
LeBlanc has been candlepin bowling since the early 1970s.
“I’ve always been into gymnastics and athletics and I always enjoyed competition. When I took up bowling, I enjoyed the competition and the sociability of everyone bowling,” she said.
For LeBlanc, the Ladies International Team Championship offers not only an opportunity to compete, but also an opportunity to connect with friends she has met through bowling.
“As soon I came in the door, I was hugging people. I hadn’t seen these people in a year and some even longer. It’s like a big sisterhood. It’s a social thing,” LeBlanc said.
Fran Deroche, of Bangor, started candlepin bowling in the 1960s and has met many friends through the sport.
“I have met a lot of nice people and had a good time. That is what it is all about,” said DeRoches, who competed in the tournament as a member of Splitters, a team made up of women from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
“We all have a passion for the game. It’s nice to be with people that share that,” said Carroll, 30, who has been candlepin bowling for 25 years.
Bain said despite the social atmosphere of the tournament, participation has dropped in recent years.
“Over the years, it has started to dwindle a little bit. Hopefully we can get it back up a little bit,” Bain said.
The only way to make sure tournaments continue, LeBlanc said, is to get more children interested in candlepin bowling.
“We want to keep candlepin alive for the youth. We need to keep them interested in it, even though it is getting more expensive, just like everything else,” LeBlanc said. “They are the ones who are going to continue it.”
Sheena Jenkins, a member of the Tri-City team, which finished fourth, agreed.
“We would definitely like to get the youth involved because the average age of the tournament is pushing 60. We are all middle age and we are considered young,” Jenkins said.
Iris Libertini, a resident of Waltham, Mass., learned to love the game from an early age.
“My mother put me in a bowling alley at age 9 and I haven’t looked back since,” said Libertini, a member of Splitters.
Bain also learned to love bowling at an early age and has been bowling competitively since she was 10 years old.
“Where I grew up bowling was just the thing you did,” Bain said, adding, “Bowling builds so many qualities. It builds team bonding, encouragement, motivation and self-esteem. Bowling is so good for your overall mentality.”
Jones said he sees nothing but a healthy future for candlepin bowling.
“There is passion for the sport,” Jones said. “My partner, (Mike Walker) and I purchased Big 20 18 months ago believing in the sport and its future. Candlepin has been around since 1890s and it’s not going anywhere.”
Owning the bowling alley he first learned to bowl in at age 5 was a dream come true for Walker.
“In high school my dream was to own my own bowling alley,” he said. “I didn’t imagine it would be this one, but the opportunity came up and I have enjoyed it.”
Want to comment on this story? Visit www.leader. mainelymediallc.com.