Playing For The Other Team: A Full Rack

Midway Pro Bowl owner Scott Koecheler lets out a hearty laugh and recalls one of his earliest experiences hosting a tournament for the GLBT community.

“During the first or second Paul Bunyan Invitational Tournament, two teams from Chicago used one of our changing rooms.   When they emerged they were dressed as early Romans, you know, togas, the whole bit.  As they moved towards their lanes they were throwing pink feathers in the air!  It was quite a sight!”

Scott is animated and friendly – he clearly enjoys telling this story and loves his customers.

“Twenty years later, we’re making changes to our lanes and we discovered PINK FEATHERS under the lanes! Gave us a great laugh and brought back excellent memories!”

Committed to tracking down every gay sports league in the great Minneapolis-St. Paul area, I’m happily enjoying a beer and a great burger at Midway on a Sunday afternoon, lured in by the idea of “Bowling for Boobies” (in support of Bowl for the Cure – a noble breast cancer awareness initiative). Midway Pro Bowl is tucked into a strip mall off University in St. Paul, a quaint and lively location that is now home to three of the four (to date) Twin Cities gay bowling leagues.

Steve Nardini, one of the Bowling for Boobies organizers and MC’s, points me in the direction of long-time league member Laura Schnellman to get a rundown of the various leagues.  If you’re interested in joining one, they include:

The Hump Day Bowlers League (Wednesdays at Midway Pro Bowl)

A 22-team, very social, close-knit group with a low turnover rate due to the level of camaraderie.  They have potlucks, good communication from league officers via Facebook and email, and a lot of fun.  They hold a number of league fundraising events throughout the season, with a percentage of the monies donated to local and national charities. Skill levels range from very good to bowling newbies. They celebrate each year with a banquet at the end of the season.

The Twin Cities Friday League (Fridays at Midway Pro Bowl)

A 10-team league, also with skill levels ranging from very good to newbies.  The smaller size allows for easy socializing and friendly competition, since everyone sort of knows everyone else. It’s either a great way to end the week or start the weekend.  There is a core group of bowlers that have been in the league for many years, and they are always looking for new bowlers for the next season to help the league grow.

The Funday Monday League (Mondays at Midway Pro Bowl)

A newer, 6-team league which began in January of 2014, with 20-25 bowlers who play on three-person teams.

The Wednesday Rainbow League (Wednesdays at Memory Lanes)

A 30-team league, with four to six person teams, comprised of GLBT and straight allies ranging in ages from the 20s to the 60s who bowl from September to April. They are celebrating 35 seasons of bowling fun and community interaction in the 2014-2015 season, and many members have been involved for decades.  Each season is wrapped up with a great end-of-season banquet where prizes are awarded.  Their waiting list is open for anyone to join in the 2014-2015 season.

All four leagues identify as GLBT, though they are open to anyone.  League preference has more to do with time and location than the competition level, or type of person who frequents any particular league.

I asked Scott Koecheler how three of the four GLBT leagues came to call Midway Pro Bowl their home.

“It started when we purchased Midway Pro Bowl in 1982 – we were told that we would be hosting a “gay” tournament, and I didn’t have any experience with the community.  So, we met with the tournament organizers and thus began our fantastic relationship with the GLBT community!  It is our philosophy to make everyone feel safe so they can have a great time.  We try to maintain good contact and be as friendly and welcoming as possible!”

Laura, who’s been a bowler and team captain since 1994, and is currently president of the Hump Day League, says the leagues support the GLBT community by offering an activity that just about anyone, with any skill level can join.  “Bowling is the common denominator and creates an opportunity for LGBT and non-LGBT people to get to know each other. It’s also just a nice way of getting to know new people, regardless of orientation, and to network, whether for fun or professional reasons. Our leagues are held in gay-friendly locations, where the staff members are respectful and friendly; where we are free to be who we are.”

Sipping my beer, listening to the clash of the pins, and the laughter, it’s clear that everyone is having a great time, and the atmosphere is non-intimidating and jovial.  Laura agrees and tells me the story of the guy whose bowling style consists of swigging his beer, rolling the ball and turning to finish the beer before his ball hits the pins.

She points to the staff member at the desk.  “You know, if I need all 10 pins reset on my lane, and I’m close enough to the front desk to get Mark’s attention, I wave at him and swipe my hand across my fairly supple breast area, indicating to him that I need a “full rack.”’

I’m pretty convinced by now that even though I’m a terrible bowler, I’d enjoy being a part of one of these leagues, but I have one final question.  I’ve noticed many bowlers wearing strange wrist braces, and am wondering what they’re for.  Laura has my answer:

“They are wrist supports, used to keep the bowler’s wrist from moving or tilting too much during delivery of the ball. I don’t use one…looks too complicated to me with all of the straps and dials! I’ve suggested making them battery operated and using them for other fun stuff….just sayin.’”

Pretty sure I get what she’s sayin’ and pretty sure I’ll be a more frequent attendee at bowling nights.

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