Strike! Bowling captures the style of the ’90s

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By Renata D’Aliesio

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble used to sneak out to play it. In the ‘60s it was as cool as greasy hair and poodle skirts. Today bowling is making a comeback. It’s louder, darker and more colourful and hipper than ever.

The game has changed a lot since the days of Grease and Rydell High. Back then the alley was the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights, and teens like the T-birds and the Pink Ladies ruled the alleys.

Owners today must show initiative if they hope to attain the popularity bowling once held. There are many more entertainment options for high school and university students, says Walter Valentan, executive director of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of Ontario.

“In the old times management could just sit around and watch their league schedule fill up. These days they must be innovative and promote and advertise to entice the public to come out.”

This is especially true of 18- to 25-year-olds, who make up 11 per cent of all bowlers in Canada. Owners have to spice up the alleys, adding music and club-like special effects to lure customers in.

Cosmic bowling has put a glow-in-the-dark twist on what is otherwise considered by many to be a boring game. After league bowlers pack it in for the evening, darkness invades the alley. Loud disco, rock and dance music blares from the sound system. Fog creeps over the floor. Hanging disco balls shoot out colourful rays and laser beams dance through the air. Bowlers boogie on the wooden lanes, hurling fluorescent green, yellow, blue and orange balls at the glowing white pins. The alley bubbled with noise, excitement, strikes and gutter balls.

And it’s working. Cosmic bowling is a bit hit at Bowlerama in East York. One- to two-hour waits for lanes are normal in weekend nights even with reservations.

“Before they wouldn’t wait around an hour and a half for a lane,” says manager Danny DeFrancesco. “Now they got the music, lights and games to keep them entertained.”

“It’s a fun atmosphere and there are a lot of attractions here,” says first-time cosmic bowler Shane Moore.

“It is a refreshing change from going to a bar every weekend, and they still have beer here so you can bowl and drink at the same time,” adds Steve Conway.

Sasha Williamson, another cosmic bowler, agrees that bowling is a viable option to bar-hopping or clubbing every night.

“It’s definitely something I would come and do every once and a while with a bunch of friends,” Williamson says while busting a groove to M.C. Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.”

“It feels exhilarating when you get a strike or a high score and if you can’t handle the big balls it can be challenging.”

While the music brings a party atmosphere to the alley, most would agree the song selection could use a little revamping.

“I don’t mind disco and ‘80s music, but they have got to play some tunes that are big today. At least I didn’t hear any Vanilla Ice or New Kids On The Block,” adds Williamson.

So what’s a night out in the cosmos going to cost? At Bowlerama shoe rental is $2 and the lane costs $19 per hour, which can be split between six players. And you don’t have to worry about closing hour — this alley is open all night.

Besides the alleys, bowling has even made its way into the movie theatres. Last summer’s release Kingpin starring Woody Harrelson as a washed up professional bowler and Randy Quaid as his Amich protoge reflects the boom bowling is enjoying.

While both DeFrancesco and Valentan found the movie degrading to the sport, Valentan admits non-bowlers probably loved it and had a good laugh. He hopes the movie has at least reminded people about bowling.

“I first came to this place after I watched the movie Kingpin,” says Carolina Agnos. “I like it here, then again how could a girl not like a place with so many balls,” she adds laughingly as she downs the rest of her beer from a plastic dixie cup.

DeFrancesco and Valentan would like to see bowling’s image change. They want to do away with the beer guzzling and pot-bellied stereotype. Either way Ryerson students would fit right in.

Now if they could only do something about those shoes.

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