‘A source of exercise & joy’
Senior bowling group members value exercise, camaraderie
One by one, her friends went up for their shot. They picked up the small duckpin bowling ball and swung it down the lane. More often than not, they were celebrated with cheers, claps or a ringing bell — courtesy of McMahon and the half-dozen companions that surrounded her.
“Everybody here is happy,” she said, smiling. “We just get along. Nobody’s uptight.”
McMahon and a rotating cast of about 20 other Frederick-area seniors gather each Thursday at the Walkersville Bowling Center for an afternoon of duckpin.
Regular attendees say it’s a source of exercise and joy they look forward to every week.
The crew doesn’t meet on Thanksgiving, said George Miller, 80. But on all the other Thursdays of the year — with the occasional exception of Christmas or New Year’s — they descend on Walkersville. It’s a familiar setting for many of the regulars, and often a comforting one. After Miller lost his wife on Christmas Day this past year, he said, he headed to bowling the next Thursday. It helped to keep busy.
“Life goes on,” he said. “You’ve gotta keep on going.”
Miller, who has bowled with the group for 15 years, said the group has kept him occupied and entertained over the years.
The bowling alley’s assistant manager, Tracy Smith, has greeted the bowlers each week for the seven years she’s worked there. She knows most of them by name, she said, smiling from behind the food counter.
They were back in the lanes the very week that the alley reopened from its pandemic shutdown, she added.
“They’re good people,” Smith said. “They like their bell.”
Many of the members of the group, which is organized through the Frederick County Senior Recreation Council, have been doing much the same for two decades or more. Some are teased as “newbies” for having only been there a couple of years.
But even the newbies are cheered on with a ring of the bell, the piercing sound echoing across the small space.
Duckpin bowling is accessible to nearly everyone, said Gerald Blessing, the group’s lead coordinator. The balls are much smaller and lighter than traditional bowling balls, and the pins are, too. Players get three throws instead of two.
Walkersville’s alley is the only facility in the county offering duckpin bowling nowadays, Blessing said.
Blessing recalls a regular attendee who recently died at the age of 96. He bowled until about a year before his passing, Blessing said.
“Everybody, practically, can do it,” he said.
Members come and go, Blessing said. But he’s always surprised that the turnout isn’t higher, given the ease and fun of duckpin. The Senior Recreation Council, which offers activities to Frederick residents over 50, is most known for its exercise classes, Blessing said, some of which can attract more than 100 people.
The group’s attendance has now almost entirely recovered from a severe dip during the pandemic, he added.
Bowling club members stop playing when injuries or illnesses strike, and new seniors find their way to the group all the time. But even as the core group shifts, the camaraderie remains.
Someone keeps score each week, marking down the points on a plastic sheet and displaying them on an old-fashioned overhead projector. But really, the players said, it’s not about the competition.
They tossed friendly jabs back and forth across the lanes at a recent August meeting. They chatted about television — who’s going to take over as the host for “Jeopardy”? — and their kids and grandkids. A container of cupcakes sat melty on the table, brought in to celebrate Nancy Shores’ recent 80th birthday.
“Everybody just blends together and has a great time,” Shores said.
As the afternoon wound down and the final scores were tallied, the lighthearted atmosphere remained unchanged.
“Alright, ladies!” one woman shouted happily. “Last frame!”