Bowling leagues slowly picking up steam |

Bowling leagues slowly picking up steam

DILLON – The revitalization of the Summit County Bowling Association leagues have gone hand-in-hand with the revamping of the county’s only bowling lanes.

Since the lanes switched owners and re-opened last winter, the weekly leagues have slowly regained steam. But they have a long way to go to reach the popularity of their heyday in the mid 1990s.

At their height, the leagues entertained several hundred Summit Countians each night of the week. Participation began to dwindle in the late 90s as Summit Bowl – as the Dillon lanes were then called – fell under disrepair. Then-owner Sam Brown was trying to sell the facility at the time, and the lanes suffered.

“Sam just didn’t want to stick any money into it,” recalled Summit County Bowling Association president Bob Farris. “He wanted to sell, so he wasn’t willing to put anything into it. So we got by with whatever we could get by with.”

Many local bowlers weren’t willing to put up with a sub-par alley, and they fled to the Front Range to play in leagues there. When the alley closed after the 2001 winter season, it was a huge blow to the local association, one from which they are still recovering.

“We’re not to the strength that we want to be or we have been,” Farris said. “But I expect by next winter season, we will be full.”

On Tuesday night, the county’s best bowlers gathered for Summit’s most competitive league. There are six four-member teams, and many of the bowlers have been in the league since the 80s (minus the hiatus two years ago). At one point, this league had 16 teams and filled the house from left to right.

It is one of four leagues that currently play Tuesday through Friday and include about 150 bowlers.

“This is my social life to be honest,” said Arthur Malott, a resident of Heeney and owner of The Balance Sheet in Frisco. “It’s just a good time.”

Malott and his team went to the now-closed lanes in Kremmling while the Dillon alley was closed. But once the lanes re-opened under new owner Andy Papa, a southern California transplant, and become Lakeside Bowl, Malott didn’t think twice about returning.

“There was no question,” he said. “I wanted to bowl here. It’s a much nicer house.”

Other local bowlers scattered to various leagues in Denver and still haven’t returned. Breckenridge resident Harold Wilson is one of them. He was filling in Tuesday in Dillon, but he’s in midseason of a league in Denver and says the drive is worth it because of better facilities and tougher competition.

“The lane conditions are much better (in Denver) and more consistent,” Wilson said. “The guys on my team who are bowling down there are averaging about 15 to 20 pins higher than they averaged here.”

Allen Dunaj has made the drive from Vail to bowl in Dillon for nine years. He wasn’t able to find another lane when the Dillon facility was between owners and remembers that time without the sport as “terrible. It was just terrible to take a year off from bowling.”

Dunaj figures its a matter of time before the leagues return to strength. And he implores his fellow bowlers to resist the lure of the Denver lanes.

“OK, maybe you don’t have the lively pins that you get in Denver,” Dunaj admitted, “but it’s a challenge. Any good bowler should be able to adjust to the lane conditions no matter where he’s at.”

Papa, who bought and re-opened the Dillon alley as Lakeside Bowl in February of 2002, is working (and spending) to change the perception of the facility. He recognizes the importance of healthy leagues and has redone the approaches, seating and installed electronic scoring – among other things – to improve the bowlers’ experience.

“I know this place has been neglected for years,” Papa said. “And I told a few people “yeah, I’m going to upgrade,’ and a lot of people didn’t really think so, because they had heard that for so long from the old owner.

“You have to prove it to the bowlers that you’re going to change things and you’re going to make the place better for them to bowl.”

Much of the business at Lakeside Bowl comes from tourists, but Papa understands the importance of maintaining robust leagues for locals. While the competitive Tuesday league has a modest six teams, the Wednesday night league is up to 14 teams. Thursday is the ladies league.

“If we get the league base back to where it was, we won’t need to rely on the tourism as much,” Papa said. “Plus, I’d rather take care of the locals who are true to this place.

“We still haven’t got a lot of them back, but it’s getting there, slowly.”

Malott, who started in the Tuesday night league in 1991, said it’s just a matter of time.

“We’ve got to get a lot of the guys who used to bowl here back up here to bowl. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at the changes. I wouldn’t want to make that drive to Denver every Tuesday night from here. If we can convince them that the lanes are good, they’ll be back.”

The league season ends in April and starts again in May.

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