By Ray Laakaniemi
CARVER COUNTY, MN It all started when “merger-mania” struck the bowling industry in 2005, and Carver County bowling proprietors could feel change was coming.
Four major national bowling organizations, including the American Bowling Congress, and the Women's International Bowling Congress merged to form the United States Bowling Congress. This group sets the national standards and rules for 3,000 local associations across the US, serving more than 2 million members.
What it meant locally was that Carver County bowlers in three local communities would probably have to join together, instead of operating separately, to help their local bowlers meet national regulations.
Among other things, the USBC establishes rules and lane standards, sanctions leagues and tournaments, and maintains averages for use in tournaments.
And what seemed like a possible obstacle to local bowlers at the time has worked out just fine, thank you.
What is in place now is the West Carver United States Bowling Congress, currently serving more than 1,000 bowlers (with room to spare, so to speak) at the Hollywood Sports Complex, Lano Lanes in Norwood Young America, and the Waconia Lanes.
With the third year of the cooperative venture now underway, the number of bowlers has increased each year, from 960 in 2006, to 1,018 in 2007-08, to 1,138 this year.
Bowling has been thriving, despite the recession. The Hollywood Sports Complex now has 16 leagues operating from Labor Day through mid-April, with some bowlers coming from as far as Owatonna.
In Norwood, Lano Lanes has nine leagues in operation, and Waconia, under new ownership, has six and expects to get more under the new management.
Bowling in Carver County has some stars.
Perfect “300” games were recorded at Hollywood last year by Joe Blackketter of Watertown and Barry Pawelk of Woodland Township.
One bowler from the association, Steve Bohn of Norwood-Young America, and his partner, John Kreyer of Fridley, won the national doubles championship in the 2010 USBC Open in Reno, NV.
Matt Schug, now a senior at Central High School in Norwood, had a 300 game while still in high school, and in 2007-08, John Kroells of Norwood Young America and Gerry Stuewe of Hamburg bowled perfect 300 games.
But, for the most part, bowling in western Carver County is for fun and friendship.
The average for men bowling in the county is about 160, and women about 140, according to Jeff Schrupp of Jordan, manager of the West Carver Association.
But, what makes it more balanced in the competition is a 90 percent handicap rule, association director Bruce Johnson explained. If your opponent has an average 20 pins higher than yours, the 90 percent handicap rule adds 18 pins to your score, making the match almost even. So, if the lower-score bowler has a good day and the higher- score bowler a poor day, the handicap could help the lower- score person win.
Lane managers, including Bill Pierson at Hollywood and Curt Wilson, president of the West Carver Association board, who runs Lano Lanes; have also worked to develop high school bowling. They provide free bowling and lunches to the high school teams, who provide their own equipment.
This year, there are 71 junior members bowling in the Association.
At this time, in this area, high school bowling is offered at Watertown-Mayer High School and Mayer Lutheran High School, as well as Hutchinson, Arlington, Waconia, and Norwood- Young America. Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted also has a high school bowling team, which rolls in Buffalo.
High school bowling in Minnesota is a club sport, using what is called the Baker System. Five bowlers each bowl two frames to complete a game.