As Hollywood portrays it in popular movies such as “Kingpin” and “The Big Lebowski,” your local bowling alley is filled with competitive, back-stabbing, silver-tongued swindlers, and overly aggressive alpha-males trying to recreate past glories.
That misconception is quickly swept aside after just spending a few minutes at Azalea Lanes.
During a recent visit to Azalea Lanes on one of their league nights, I had the honor of chatting with many of the fine folks that frequent the lanes.
Most are not there for competition; rather they go bowling to get out of the rain, do something active, and share some smiles and laughs with family and friends.
“More than anything, it’s the people,” said Dave Rigel, who has been active in the bowling league for the past nine years. “Bowling people are all good people.”
Rigel adds that in a small community the bowling alley is one of the few places where you can meet new places while having a gathering place among friends.
Debbie Crump, who has been bowling at Azalea Lanes for the past seven years, makes it a weekly family affair. She bowls with her mother, Carol, and said it’s something they enjoy doing together.
“You get to socialize, and exercise, and make a fool of yourself,” laughed Crump. “It’s inexpensive and it entertains my mom.”
Owners Gary and Karen Kerr have been proprietors of the bowling alley for over three decades. Their 35th anniversary is coming up on April 3 and after all those years Gary still enjoys coming to work.
“That’s the thing about coming here: It’s that everyone is here to have a good time,” he said.
It’s the type of friendliness that keeps people coming back to Azalea Lanes. Nearly everyone I spoke with had been bowling at the lanes for at least seven years. Some, like Ray Franklin, have been bowling there for over 35 years. Franklin, a retired race car driver and builder, who states he built cars for legends such as Parnelli Jones and raced in some of the early NASCAR events, makes a simple correlation between bowling and auto racing.
“It’s just like driving a race car, I couldn’t wait to get to the next race,” exclaimed the 93-year-old. Much like the bowlers that compete in league play on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, Franklin enjoys the friendships he has with the other bowlers during Thursday’s Senior League.
Theresa Wentzel, Lois Ferguson, and Ann Leonard are part of the “Happy Hats” team that makes Senior League less of a competition and more of an event.
“It (the score) doesn’t matter much to us,” declared an energetic Ferguson, who makes vibrantly colored costumes for her team to wear every week. The team also likes to play cards while bowling and hand out treats when all four of them mark in a frame.
“That’s probably why we don’t bowl so well,” joked Wentzel. “We are having too much fun.”
Shaun Parvic, a 15-year patron at Azalea Lanes, summarized it best.
“It’s good for the community to see young and old playing this sport. It’s a great sport,” he declared. “I love it. It gives me something to do in the winter and the people are really nice.”
When I went to Azalea Lanes I wasn’t sure what to expect, partially because of my naive predisposition based on popular cinema references, what I actually got was an example of local camaraderie and friendship in an engaging atmosphere.