Walking into the lobby of the recently renovated DiDonato Family Fun Center in Hammonton, I can hear familiar voices say, “Hey Waldy. Just one lane today?”
Despite graduating from Hammonton High School in 2010, leaving the school’s bowling team behind me and moving away from the area for three years, the employees at DiDonato’s still remember who I am.
I’ve been fond of bowling for as long as I can remember. Most of my birthday parties growing up were held at DiDonato’s. I even had a bowling beat blog — notimetospare.wordpress.com — in college. But it isn’t something I took more seriously until I reached high school.
I grew up playing soccer. During my eighth-grade middle school soccer season, I was injured and developed patellar tendonitis, an injury to connective tissue in the knee. I went to physical therapy the summer before high school, which helped my tendonitis, but my doctor said that if I continued to play, I would most likely tear my ACL, an injury all athletes dread. So I quit soccer.
I wanted to remain physically active in high school and needed a low-impact sport to do so. Bowling was my answer. Freshman year, I got my very own ball and bowling shoes for my birthday, during the middle of bowling season in December.
I bowled varsity my remaining three years in high school. For graduation, I received another new ball — this one made especially for beginners to learn how to curve the ball.
Curving the ball is a technique where you throw the ball down one side of the lane, and it curves inside to the pocket at the right time. The pocket is the area between the head pin and the 3 pin, behind it to the right. For the most part, I’ve got this technique down, but only at DiDonato’s.
People I talk to about bowling more seriously look at me like I’m crazy. Several people have asked, “Don’t you just throw the ball down the lane?” The answer is no, you don’t.
There is some skill to bowling, and there are many different factors that can affect your game.
Different bowling alleys have different oil patterns. Oil patterns on the lanes also change between games and usually become drier as the day goes on. The ball will have a bigger hook. You need to learn to adjust your mark and throwing technique so that you can hit the pocket. Adjusting my mark at “away” alleys is still something I haven’t quite mastered.
Bowling balls are supposed to weigh 10 percent of your body weight. My 14-pound ball is heavier than what is recommended, but it works for me. I know exactly where to stand on my home alley, where to throw it and how hard to throw it so it hits the pocket at the correct angle.
Bowling balls are made with different materials and cores. Some will provide a more severe curve. Some are made for people learning to curve, like myself. Most people curve, or hook, the ball using the fingertip method. Plugs are inserted into the finger holes of the ball so you can use the first knuckle of your middle and ring fingers. This method gives you more control of the ball. There are also balls that have evenly weighted cores to bowl straight. These are the kind bowling alleys use as ‘house balls.’
Then, it’s all about practice. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. You develop muscle memory in your hand, wrist and forearm. There are certain “tricks,” so to speak, to be able to grab the spare off a split. But these tricks won’t work unless you practice, practice, practice.
So, if you see me alone at DiDonato’s or some other local alley, wearing a knee brace, I’m probably trying to grab that 10-pin spare or beat my 220 high game. Because after all, everybody dreams of getting a perfect 300 game, and that would be the best day ever.