2017-09-08 / Sports Spotlight

All lanes led to eventual Big 20 ownership

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


Mike Walker, who grew up bowling in Big 20 Bowling Center’s youth leagues, didn’t even imagine owning the very place where he learned to love the game of candlepin bowling. (Michael Kelley photos) Mike Walker, who grew up bowling in Big 20 Bowling Center’s youth leagues, didn’t even imagine owning the very place where he learned to love the game of candlepin bowling. (Michael Kelley photos) Scarborough native Mike Walker has made a living out of candlepin bowling, a sport he picked up at a young age after seeing a notice from Scarborough Community Services about a youth league at the Big 20 Bowling Center on Route 1.

Seven years ago, fulfilling a longtime dream, Walker, a 2004 Scarborough High School graduate, became owner of the Big 20, an alley he first began bowling at close to 30 years ago.

Walker and his business partner Rick Jones bought the bowling alley in 2010 from the Anton family after operating it on behalf of the Antons for a number of years. With Jones leaving the business in December, Walker is now the sole owner.

Big 20, originally called the State O’ Maine Bowling Center, was started in 1950 by Mike Anton, who ran the center until 1977, when he passed it on to his son, Chris, who was involved until his death in 2007.


The Big 20 Bowling Center, on Route 1 since 1950, has been a popular place for candlepin bowling. For the last seven years, it has been owned by 2004 Scarborough High School graduate Mike Walker. The Big 20 Bowling Center, on Route 1 since 1950, has been a popular place for candlepin bowling. For the last seven years, it has been owned by 2004 Scarborough High School graduate Mike Walker. Walker had been dreaming of owning his own alley since early high school, but he envisioned his bowling alley as a hybrid candlepin and 10-pin bowling, not the very venue he had been bowling in since he was 5 years old.

“I never thought I’d have a chance to own this place,” he said.

The Big 20 Bowling Center, which originally housed four versions of bowling on its 20 lanes: candlepin, 10 pin, duckpin and Canadian five pin, has a storied history.

It was inducted into the Candlepin Hall of Fame in 1980. Chris Anton, who help to start the Hall of Fame in the mid-1960s, was inducted in 1971. Since opening, Big 20 has hosted a number of world championships, junior world championships, state championships and even a weekly live bowling television show, drawing bowlers all across the state, country and Canada.

“He loves bowling so much,” his mother Leslie Walker said, adding her son has “a lot of great ideas to promote the business and get people back into bowling.”

Walker has had a long history at the bowling center.

“He started bowling there when he was 5 in the kids league. My daughter did as well. (The Big 20) used to put fliers in the little red folders (students brought home from school). That’s how (my children) got started. He bowled in the kids league all through high school. He played basketball and golf as well, but always made time for bowling,” said Leslie Walker, who recently retired as a middle school technology teacher after 20 years with Scarborough schools.

“Bowling wasn’t really in my family. My dad bowled a little bit and my sister bowled too, but my parents didn’t push me. I just fell in love with the game,” Walker said.

Walker, who grew up playing team sports, was attracted to bowling due to the individual nature of the sport.

“I enjoyed team sports, but with this, it’s all up to me. It is my performance, not anyone else’s. I could be down and it’d be up to me to get the pins I needed to win the match. I love that competitive fire,” said Walker, who bowled on the New England Pro Tour for three years after high school. “It is a great sport. It’s a great game. It’s great exercise, but the main reason people do this through our 67-year history is the friendships made and the social aspect.”

Walker doesn’t get to bowl as much as he would like due to word demands. In fact, he hasn’t bowled any since Jones’ departure. He hopes with league play starting up this week and other employees trained to offer relief, he will be able to get into candlepin bowling.

“I’ve missed it,” he said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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