Putting pins in their place

A University student wrote ‘Let’s Go Bowling!,’ a humorous and historical look at a long-loved sport

by Katrina Wilber

Bowling pins, like middle-school crushes, are fickle. Just ask University sophomore Cloid Green.

Out with some friends at Coffman’s Goldy’s Gameroom, Green stood, prepared himself and took a deep breath. He advanced with the sure, measured steps of a professional, pulled his arm back and fired the ball down the lane.

The ball’s 15 pounds shot down the polished wood of the alley and sent pins careening in all directions.

Well, not all the pins. A few settled back into place, leaving him with a less-than-perfect frame.

Then it was Karen Lu’s turn.

She nonchalantly tossed the ball down the lane, and walked back to her seat without waiting to see what happened.

She didn’t need to see it. The look on Green’s face said it all: Lu’s cavalier bowling style had earned her another strike.

“How did you do that?” he asked as Lu started to laugh. “How did you just do that?”

The slightest curve of the bowler’s throw, the condition of the lanes and even the weight of the ball stand between the sweet taste of victory and the sour stench of defeat.

University graduate student Eric Dregni has researched and read all about bowling’s history. He even wrote a book about the sport. But even he cannot tame those fickle pins.

“I’m a terrible bowler,” he said, “but I bowl for fun, just like everybody else.”

Dregni recently wrote up a coffee table-style book in honor of this win-some, lose-some sport. In it, he takes a fairly sarcastic look at bowling’s “competitive” history.

“Every country claims to have invented a different kind of bowling,” Dregni said.

The game has a long and storied history, but the majority of the University students who fill Goldy’s Gameroom on the weekends are oblivious to the evolution of a game dedicated to throwing a heavy ball at 10 oddly shaped objects.

Here’s a short version of Dregni’s lesson:

“Let’s Go Bowling!” starts with a discussion over bowling’s beginnings in Egypt during the ancient reigns of the pharaohs. Or was it an old Roman war tactic of rolling rocks down steep hills to “bowl” over their enemies?

The sport has a storied history in religion and politics, too. Priests used to say that every pin knocked down meant a demon had been killed. But bowling became the devil’s game when people took it more seriously than they did their devotion to church. And if the alleys in his house were any indication, it appears Henry VIII needed something to do between beheading and divorcing his wives.

Whatever the reason or the origin, scholars and theorists agree bowling is one of the oldest games still played today.

Dregni said there are several books about bowling, but not the kind of books he wanted to read.

“Most of the books seem like they were written in the 1960s,” he said. “They teach people how to bowl, but don’t mention anything about the history of the sport.”

Dregni took a trip to the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in St. Louis, to research the sport. But his knowledge base began young.

Dregni grew up in Minnetonka, where his best friend’s dad owned a bowling alley.

“It was a family bowling alley, and it became the center of the town,” he said. “I just thought that was how everybody grew up.”

Dregni believes the best part of bowling isn’t bowling at all – it’s socializing.

“It’s a competitive sport, but it’s still social,” Green said, “and it’s easy to get a group together to go bowling.”

That ease translates to dating as well, Dregni said.

“It’s not like going to a movie or going out to eat,” he said. “If you go to a movie, you just sit there. If you go out to eat, you have to sit there and talk. Bowling takes the pressure off.”