Did you feel that nip in the air Monday morning? I've been told by a confidential source that was just Mother Nature reminding us it's bowling season again.
I enjoy the sport much more during cooler weather, when I don't feel my fingers or my sliding shoe or even my shirt or socks feeling sticky as I work up a little bit of a sweat.
Besides, it's so nice to be outside when it's warm, and goodness knows, we have enough cold weather to keep us indoors for nearly all of a 30- or 32-week league season.
Today's news is a bit somber, but is also familiar to any of us that have been around bowling for any length of time.
Another Upper Peninsula bowling center closed during the past month. This time it was Tahqua Lanes in Newberry, forcing anyone from that area who wants to bowl to drive for about an hour, either to Dondee Lanes in Sault Ste. Marie, High Fives in Munising, Lake View Lanes in Manistique or Gateway Lanes in St. Ignace.
I heard about the closure from fellow Mining Journal reporter John Pepin, who gave me a copy of The Newberry News in mid-August with a small, nondescript ad on Page 3 announcing the closure, thanking customers for their business and letting them know when the center would be open so they could pick up equipment they had stored there.
I called the proprietor of Tahqua Lanes, Shawn Gerwatoski, who I found out later had been running the center after taking over from his father a few years back.
He didn't want to talk to me about the closure, so I decided to track down some bowlers from that area whose names I had gotten over the past few years when I wrote up how area bowlers did at the annual American Legion state bowling tournament.
Whenever I would get results from someone in Marquette County cashing at the event, invariably a scan of the results would show someone from Newberry, Curtis or McMillan not only doing well, but winning a state title in at least one of tournament's four divisions.
Back then, I had to call a few of these people to confirm spellings or get first names, and always had a nice talk about bowling with them.
This time, I tracked down two people from Newberry. Both described Tahqua Lanes in a way that sounded typical of a lot of rural centers - a small, in this case, 10-lane center getting up there in years and needing constant maintenance and repair because of it.
Both Chad Bodi and Chris Ison said the number of leagues and the size of them has been shrinking for awhile, as not a lot of young people have come in to replace those who have dropped out.
"It's just been a slow, steady erosion," Ison said about shrinking league numbers, adding about the closure, "I think all of us knew it would happen at some point."
He said the center will really be missed as a gathering place for people to come together, or in some cases, to get away from it, without having to go to a bar.
"We would all complain about it (the center), but you never know what you have until it's gone," Ison said. "We're going to miss it."
Both Ison and Bodi said that they knew of several guys, probably including themselves, who would join leagues in the Soo.
Ison said he's already on a team in the Soo with a seven-man rotation so if he has to miss a week because of bad winter weather or work conflicts, the team would less likely be shorthanded.
We've seen the same bowling shrinkage happen in Marquette County over the past 25 years. Since I moved to this area in 1993, I've seen the Eastwood Lanes and the downtown Windmill Lanes close in Marquette, along with the Red Fox Lanes at K.I. Sawyer and the Gwinn Inn in Gwinn. And just a few years before that, Northern Michigan University shuttered its lanes on campus.
Right off the top of my head, I know that Kingsford, Gladstone and Ontonagon have lost their centers in that time, and Escanaba, Menominee and Sault Ste. Marie now have one center when they used to have two not much more than a decade ago.
Going back 40, 50 and 60 years ago, I've found out that towns like Negaunee, Republic, Chatham and Daggett used to have centers and no longer do.
The U.P. is typical of just about every other area I've heard about, at least in the Midwest.
I guess if there's a lesson in this, it's that we should not take our bowling centers for granted, as I've never heard of one in the U.P. that was bursting at the seams and had to turn away business.
It's a good idea to patronize our local centers and encourage youth bowling in whatever shape or forms we can, too, to help the sport's future.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.