Lucky Strikes: E-Bowling With My Mom

Finding inspiration from 90-somethings who enjoy knocking down pins

“Is this your first time?” Marge Beer, 82, asked with a smile as she positioned me in front of a very large Smart TV with a 3-D bowling alley straight ahead. “Keep your eye on the blue line in the center and let ‘er rip.”

Let ‘er rip I did, only to watch my electronic bowling ball go sailing into the gutter. There were groans from both the Xbox virtual audience and the four live female members of the Lucky Strikes Bowling team I’d come to observe at the All Saints Retirement Center in Madison, Wis., during their latest Friday afternoon practice. The Lucky Strikes team captain is my mother, Lucy Bradley, 96-years-young. She patted my arm as I returned to my seat and said reassuringly, “You’ll get the hang of it.”

I reminded my mom and her teammates that I was there to watch and interview them, not to E-bowl myself, but they wanted me to see what it was like. “It’s a lot harder than it looks,” I admitted, which elicited four knowing smiles.

“I miss Wii bowling,” opined Jean Matuszak, 85, who was having a hard time making the transition from Nintendo’s Wii to Microsoft’s Xbox. “It was easier to get a strike with Wii bowling.”

“Yes, but the controls always froze up,” interjected Judy Sampson, at 76 the youngster on the Lucky Strikes. “It would take forever to bowl a game, let alone two.” The nodding of the heads of the other Lucky Strikes members signaled their agreement.

My 96 year old mom lining up her shot.Credit: Courtesy of Doug Bradley
My 96-year-old mom lining up her shot.

“With Xbox, you can play a game or two in no time,” added Marge, who looked like she’d be equally at home in a regular bowling alley. “I used to bowl. I miss it,” she said. “But this is fun, too.”

A Strike of Benefits

Fun, camaraderie, competition and exercise are just a few of the reasons behind the appeal of E-bowling to the two dozen others who populate All Saints bowling teams. Nationwide, tens of thousands of seniors participate.

“At one time, we had at least 10 E-bowling teams,” says Deb Carrett, onsite apartment manager at All Saints. “It ebbs and flows.”

One of the great things is that you can be less abled and still participate. The highest E-bowling score we had was by a woman in a wheelchair.

— Deb Carrett, apartment manager at All Saints

“The great thing is that any age can play,” adds Michelle Naegle, All Saints neighborhood manager. “It provides the residents with a social activity, exercise, companionship — even competition. Some of our bowlers are very competitive,” she smiled.

I wondered if Michelle might have been thinking about my mom. She’s as competitive as they come. Indeed, Lucy is extremely disappointed when she doesn’t throw a strike or roll a 200 game, as much as she’s disappointed when she doesn’t win a game of Pinochle or Euchre, which she also plays weekly at All Saints.

I did notice a slight air of competition among the Lucky Strikes bowlers, but that diminished alongside the enthusiastic support they all gave their teammates. A lot of helpful tips were dispensed as well, which often resulted in someone getting a higher score.

E-bowling woman with caneCredit: Courtesy of Doug Bradley
E-bowling woman with cane

It was a treat to watch these women moving, flexing, stretching, smiling and enjoying themselves. It was great, too, to have a handful of other All Saints residents stop by while the Lucky Strikes were practicing (the “official” All Saints E-bowling league doesn’t start until the fall) and watch, cheer or just hang out. It sure made me feel good about where my mom was living and spending her time.

“Fairly often we have young people come in to visit our residents, and they’ll play E-bowling with them,” observes Naegle. “And the All Saints folks will win and the kids are like, ‘How did that happen?’”

“One of the great things is that you can be less abled and still participate,” adds Carrett. “The highest E-bowling score we had — a 299 game — was made by a woman in a wheelchair.”

There weren’t any wheelchairs the day I was there, but a woman with a cane did stop by and throw a few frames without any problem.

I doubt the Lucky Strikes will be entering the National Senior League’s E-bowling competition soon. But, even with their 339 years of combined age and enough infirmities to slow anyone down, the members of the Lucky Strikes are enjoying their time at the “bowling alley.”

And who knows, maybe they’ll all get the hang of Xbox and win the league championship this year. The day I watched them practice, they totaled nearly 1,200 points/pins for two games by each of them. Not bad for one afternoon…

Doug Bradley
By Doug Bradley
Doug Bradley recently retired from the University of Wisconsin Sytem, where he was the director of communications and currently teaches a course on the effects of popular music during the Vietnam War Era. Doug is a U.S. Army veteran and the author of DEROS Vietnam, a fictional montage of war stories set during the early 1970s. He also is a member of the Deadly Writers Patrol (DWP) writing group that publishes a periodic magazine which includes work by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Visit doug-bradley.com to learn more.

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