There are high-fives and fist bumps all around as Jackie Fryar bowls a strike, her second in a row.
A few minutes before, she had lovingly pulled a pair of broken-in bowling shoes out of her bag. As she slipped them on, she explained that after joining the military, she hadn’t bowled in 30 years. Then one day a friend told her she was thinking about checking out the St Paul Community Bowling League, but that she didn’t want to go alone. Fryar decided to dust off her old ball, shoes, and bag and join the league.
Giving her old shoes a final pat, she smiled and said, “I couldn’t bowl then, and can’t bowl now!”
When her turn comes, however, she cradles her ball like an old friend and throws strike after strike.
I turn to the nearest person and asked, “Did you see that? She said she couldn’t bowl!”
Doval Watson smiles.
“Don’t let her fool you,” he says, giving me the same raised-eyebrow a principal gives when making an obvious point on parent night.
Carlotta Armstrong is also a member of the bowling league. She explains that the members of St. Paul AME Church, which is located in Chapel Hill, were exploring ideas for a fundraiser in 2012. (St. Paul, the “friendly church on the corner,” recently celebrated its 148th anniversary.) They decided to hold a bowling outing at AMF Durham Lanes at 4508 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. The event was such a hit they decided to create a community-based bowling league.
“We call it our bowling ministry,” says Armstrong, “but we don’t make you join the church. It’s just our way to have fun together doing something that everybody can do.”
Her husband, Tommie Young, just happened to be experienced in setting up amateur tournaments in North Carolina and Virginia, so he helped form the new U.S. Bowling Congress-sanctioned league.
Anyone can join. Clem Self attends Russell Memorial CME Church in Durham and she’s a member. “I’m not a traitor!” she exclaims. “I live in Chapel Hill and already know most of these people.”
Right now the league has eight teams and 22 members. They all get together to bowl for a couple of hours on Sundays starting at 5 p.m.
“There’s room for more,” Armstrong says. “We’d like to get up to 20 teams.”
Once the bowling bug bites, it can bite hard. “I used to go with Tommie and watch him bowl,” Armstrong says. “I was kinda interested, but didn’t really have the time. I was working for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, plus I was taking classes at Duke for advancement. I would sit there and read while everybody else bowled.”
But now that she’s retired and the vice president of the bowling league, her attitude has changed.
“Do you know that I got out there and found out I loved it!” she sys. “Something clicked.”
Armstrong started going to AMF three days a week. Some of the lanes’ patrons took notice and offered helpful tips. After her husband bought her a bowling ball and shoes, she knew she was ready.
More cheers erupt. Laure Davis has just dealt with a 7-10 split, where the pins on the far left and right are the only ones left standing. She was able to hit the pin on the left in a way that caused it to spin and catch the other pin on its way down.
After seeing all of the congratulatory fist bumps and high-fives I ask, “Aren’t these people on other teams?”
“Oh, sure,” answers Armstrong, “but we cheer for each other all the time. This is what we call friendly competition. We’re just here to have a good time.”
Laure Davis, her husband, Clifton, and her mom, Jo Stevens, visited the AMF Durham Lanes one day in search of a league to join. Employees told them about the St. Paul league, and they’ve been bowling on Sundays ever since. The Davises drive from Burlington to Mebane, where they pick up Laure’s mom, and then arrive at AMF ready to bowl.
Laure used to bowl on Fayetteville State University’s bowling team, but Clifton is new to the sport. A former football player and coach with a competitive streak, he “plans to beat everyone in here” one of these days. Contact Patricia Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org
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