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Duckpin bowling is for everyone
By Alexandra Rockey Fleming


'Little balls, big fun," reads the brochure touting duckpin bowling at White Oak Duckpin Bowling Lanes in Silver Spring.

Indeed, it is fun to hurl a 4-pound speckled ball down a narrow aisle in hope of knocking down a few pins. When the game is set to a blaring jukebox soundtrack featuring good-times tunes such as "Billie Jean" and "Macho Man," it's even better. Put up some gutter bumpers, add a pair of funky bowling shoes and a side of fries, and duckpin bowling is a blast.

A Saturday-afternoon visit to White Oak Lanes, an institution in Silver Spring since 1959, feels like a throwback to yesteryear. Actually, it almost is: Maryland is the birthplace of duckpin bowling, and the sport recently celebrated its centennial.

Think of bowling in miniature. Duckpin bowlers use balls about 6 inches in diameter, rolling them down the alley — three balls per turn — toward pins that are smaller than those used in standard tenpin bowling.

It isn't any easier than tenpins, but it's a snap for children to handle these small balls — compared to the 8- to 13-pound balls of tenpins, White Oak day manager Joanne Blaschke says.

"Everyone comes up to us and says, 'This is great — we love it,'" she says. "It's a family-oriented sport. We get them from all over, and we get a lot of people from out of town — they come in here to do this because they don't have duckpins where they live. It's a novelty."

Sadly, it's a novelty that's dying out. In fact, just about 72 duckpin centers are left nationwide, says Robin Olson, a Web designer and mother of three who lives in Gaithersburg.

"Duckpin lanes used to be everywhere," Ms. Olson says. Known as the "duckpin queen," she loves the sport so heartily that it is one of the subjects she explores on her Web site,

"I grew up in the Washington area, and when you said you were going bowling, you meant duckpin," she says. "Now they've all closed. A major reason is that there's been no manufacturer of pinsetter equipment in operation for 35 years. However, someone right now is developing a brand-new pinsetter machine, and he feels that by 2003 there will be pinsetter equipment available" for duckpin bowling entrepreneurs.

Duckpin bowling is very much alive here at White Oak, and most ages, shapes, sizes and colors are represented in the clientele. It includes teenagers, groups of adults and families. Grandmothers and grandfathers bowl with one or two small grandchildren. Young partygoers shriek with joy.

Thirty-five preschoolers, birthday-party guests of the 4-year-old son of Joseline Pena of College Park, are having a fabulous time. Their parents seem to be loving it, as well.

"I haven't had anyone drop their child off," Ms. Pena says, taking a moment's break from the action. "All the parents have stayed today. I like duckpin bowling because it's kind of a challenge to see the kids get their coordination together. It's not competitive, and it's a good way to exert energy."

Silver Spring mother Alicia Ward, bowling a game with her 8-year-old son, Calvin, says they have come to White Oak to try something different.

"I gave him the choice of roller-skating or bowling today," Ms. Ward says. "He picked bowling, and he likes it a lot."

"Kids always have a great time," Ms. Blaschke confirms. "The rule of thumb is that the colder it gets, the busier it gets. Bowling is a winter sport, and if it rains, this place is mobbed."

Ms. Olson says she recently held her 10-year-old son's birthday party at a duckpin alley, "and the kids loved it. They went crazy. I've introduced so many children to the game. They're like, 'Why haven't I done this before? It's so fun.'"