Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bowling's Enthusiasm Problem

Last night I bowled my sport league in the house in which Leanne and Gary Hulsenberg bowl league and have their pro shop. Given the fact that Leanne is seeded second in tonight's stepladder finals of the biggest women's bowling tournament in history, I kind of thought I might hear the place buzzing with excitement. After all, most of the people present at that time were pretty serious bowlers or solid bowling fans, and many of them knew Leanne and Gary well, were customers of theirs, or were even friends of theirs. Yet, I heard nary a word about Leanne most of the evening.

Finally, I said something about Leanne making the finals to a guy who, I think, helped Leanne and Gary get their pro shop up and running, and he responded with a very matter-of-fact and underwhelming, "Yeah, she bowled pretty well."

"Pretty well?" I said silently to myself. "She bowled fantastically well against some of the best freakin' female bowlers on the planet and is just two matches away from the biggest title in women's bowling, to be won on the grandest stage, Dallas Cowboys Stadium, in bowling history, and all you can say, in an indifferent monotone, is that she's bowled "pretty well""?

He then followed that up with a quip from a PBA star friend of his about the U.S. Women's Open shot this year being "," thereby, if inadvertently, devaluing Leanne's accomplishment by suggesting that she performed it on easy conditions.

And so we have illustrated here what may be one of the biggest reasons why elite bowling and even bowling in general seem as though they may be in an inexorable death spiral: hardly anybody seems to give a sh*t. I say "seems to," because maybe, deep down, a lot of people are as excited as I am that Leanne is in the finals and about elite bowling in general, but, for some perverse reason, they don't dare let it show because it wouldn't look "cool."

Then again, maybe they really just don't give a damn, like the commentators on who were ho-hum about a high school senior holding his own with the PBA's best in the recent Team USA tryouts for the upcoming Pan Am games. Or the scratch level junior bowlers in my "PBA Experience" league a few summers back who were too busy playing on their smartphones to watch Leanne Barrette when she threw the ball. Or the guys in my scratch league who don't know who won the PBA tournament of the week before or who's doing well on tour. Or the fans who virtually ignore Walter Ray Williams Jr. when he walks into a bowling center before a big tournament.

Am I being silly, or does bowling have a serious under-enthusiasm problem? ESPN's much maligned bowling announcer Rob Stone once sat in with the guys of PBA Xtra Frame and talked about how bowling fans need to get more solidly behind the players and show more enthusiasm, and how PBA telecasts need to rise above the somber occasions of yesteryear. I am now more and more convinced that he was right, just as I am equally convinced that his advice will continue to be ignored and even ridiculed by "bowling fans" throughout the land until the PBA has gone the way of the PWBA and all you'll be able to see in what few bowling centers remain open amidst a mass extinction of bowling centers far and wide is kiddie birthday parties and adolescent rock n' bowl.

In the meantime, I'll continue to unabashedly celebrate the sport of bowling here in this blog and brim with enthusiasm for tonight's U.S. Women's Open finals, even if I wont' be able to watch it live.

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