Brandon Ladenheim, center, holding ball, of the R-Gang team at Sunday Bowling League at Chelsea Piers
Life in the fast lane: Sunday bowling offers fun to spare
By Judith Stiles
Gone is the era of embroidered names emblazoned on polyester bowling shirts with coordinated satin jackets that match the league colors. In this day and age, if you want to bowl in a league in New York City, one of the hippest adult groups in town is the Sunday Bowling League at Chelsea Piers, where everyone is in it for the love of bowling and not all the trappings.
Wearing casual clothes and sometimes rental bowling shoes, teams with with inventive names such as Charmed, 3 Men And A Baby and Split Happens, compete in three games of bowling to determine the winners of the week. This year the league boasts over 80 people, mostly men, who convene at Chelsea Piers almost every Sunday night for 34 weeks. The league welcomes bowlers of all abilities, from novices to the highly skilled, and levels the variety of competition with a handicap system. To determine the handicap, a player will subtract his average score for the season from 220, and then 90 percent of that number will become his or her handicap for the year.
With a low handicap, Brandon Ladenheim, a finance major at Baruch College, works at AMF bowling at Chelsea Piers on weekend days, and on Sunday nights he is a ringer substitute if a team member is absent. On a recent Sunday, a top-notch bowler on R-Gang had a holiday concert engagement, and young Ladenheim was ready and eager to fill in. Ten minutes before the game, he warmed up, testing the game lane for where the ball hooks and slides. The lanes are oiled twice a day and the last 15 feet have no applied oil, which can alter the direction and speed of the ball. Ladenheim evaluated the dryness of the lane, and because there was less oil, decided to use more aggressive equipment, he noted, describing his strategy. As part of his game plan, he used his favorite ball, a Sling Blade by Hammer, which cost north of $200, in order to put his best foot forward with his temporary teammates, Richard Peare, Bob Miller and R.J. Hughes.
At Chelsea Piers, bowlers no longer have to laboriously pencil in scores on a spreadsheet. Rather, they can relax and enjoy the game more than ever, using a digital scoring screen that not only reminds one when its ones turns to bowl, but gives coaching advice to the novice. For example, when there are two pins left standing not very near each other, orange arrows on the screen will illustrate the best approach to cause one pin to knock down the other in the hopes of a spare. The screen even has a cartoon hatchet cutting a pin in half to describe the split and what to do next.
Michael Goldman who has had no trouble getting strikes and spares on Sunday nights for the past 10 years, says he loves the competition and the camaraderie, adding that being in this league harkens back to a simpler time when I bowled as a kid when it was just pure fun.
According to league president Alex Harris, the league welcomes any adult who loves to bowl, and the only requirements are that you maintain the respectful atmosphere and enjoy yourself. Sunday Bowling League, along with the Monday Night Madness League at Chelsea Piers, is part of the I.G.B.O., the International Gay Bowling Organization, which boasts over 17,000 members and over 200 leagues in 27 states. Membership entitles bowlers to participate in highly competitive and fun tournaments around the country, such as the Eighth Annual Alamo City Tournament in San Antonio, Tex., coming up on Jan. 13.
Although there are several novices in Sunday Bowling League, dont be fooled into thinking this is a noncompetitive group of bowling aficionados. Everyone in the league is itching to win, targeting the awards given out at the end of the season. A gala banquet is held in May with trophies and cash prizes, motivating many teams to try and nab first and second place. On Sunday, when Tim Differt, captain of team Charmed, bowled a turkey, or three strikes in a row, he and his teammates were beaming because they were well on their way to winning the coveted end-of-the-year cash prize, which can mean over $1,200 for the team.
If you love bowling and are looking for a team, it is not too late to join S.B.L. You can sample the league play by registering as a sub where you step in as a guest bowler for a reasonable $23 that covers three games, hours of fun, good company and of course a decent temporary handicap if you need one. For more information e-mail league president Alex Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.