Bowling their age, and then some
SIBLEY, Iowa -- Half the team has hearing aids, two of them have pacemakers and one has had a trio of hip surgeries.
Their ages range from 68 to 84, and these days you can't wipe the smile off their faces -- they are the league champions of the Monday night Commercial League at Sibley's Merry Lanes bowling alley.
The tandem of six -- they bowl with five on any given night and keep a spare in the rotation -- toppled teams half their age, and then some to, to put their bowling sponsor, C&D Guns, in the spotlight.
While some may say age equals experience, the men aren't ashamed to say their top finish was a sheer stroke of luck. Ask of their bowling average and most simply answer, "It isn't what it used to be."
Still, every Monday night from early September through mid May, they take a break -- and their spare change -- to the bowling alley.
Little wagers help keep the spirits high, like trying to fill the third frame in the second game. Whoever fails to get a strike or a spare has to buy every member of the team a pop. In addition, if someone bowls a double -- two strikes in a row -- at any time during the night, teammates must put a nickel in the kitty. A turkey -- three consecutive strikes -- means the rest of the team has to put in a dime.
"Forty-five years ago, we took our winnings and went on a fishing trip to northern Minnesota," said Wayne Moet.
They kept that tradition going for about 20 years, until the cabin rent grew too expensive.
"Now, we can afford to get to Worthington," teased Lawrence "Dutch" Kruger.
After the fishing trips stopped, the gang gathered with their wives for a nice dinner, but even that has fallen by the wayside.
The team's steepest wager requires every team member to put a quarter in the kitty at the beginning of each game. The person who bowls the highest score over their average gets the pot.
"That's because we're farmers -- we only could afford a quarter," said Gilbert Blochowitz.
"You make a whole dollar," John Christians added with a laugh.
Just then, Don Brody, the team secretary so-to-speak, pulled out a little book containing the name of the kitty winner from each game -- not just during the past season, but of the past several years.
Brody, the oldest member of the team at age 84, has bowled at Merry Lanes since the alley first opened in the early 1950s. Back then, he bowled with his dad -- a man who finally retired from the sport at 83. Brody has bested him by a year and doesn't plan to stop bowling any time soon.
"He comes back just to try to take our money," Blochowitz said, garnering a shy smile from the quieter Brody.
Many of the bowlers on the team started in bowling because they had a father or friend in the league. They kept up with it all these years because they have fun -- and that is what, they say, bowling is all about.
"I don't think anyone ever goes home mad," Moet said. "If you want to bowl, have fun. If you win the league, that is a little bonus.
"We don't throw the fancy ball," he added. "Mine is about 20 years old."
Moet said winning the team championship was simply a stroke of luck.
"The reason we won the league -- the super good bowlers had a bad night in the playoffs and we came through and bowled our average," Moet said.
Despite the win, the newly crowned champions don't have trophies -- or bowling patches -- to show for their accomplishment. This is the first year the league decided not to spend the extra money for the hardware.
"This Monday night league, there's so many good bowlers they've probably got so many trophies," Kruger said.
The C&D Guns team, however, hasn't had that kind of luck over the years. Trophies, they said, would be nice to have as a memento.
For those who may wonder just what the guys' averages are, some things, they say, are meant to be kept secret. They did share, however, their highest game or series.
For Christians, it was a 268 game he bowled back in 1994 on a team in Ellsworth. Blochowitz threw a 275 game in about 2001; and Kruger got a 278 in a tournament "about 30 years ago." Moet's best game was about a 240; Brody had his highest series in 1982-1983 with a 674; and Meester, the youngest and newest member of the team, has a high score of about 120.
"I'm not that good of bowler, I'm just out for fun," Meester said.