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Home » HISTORY in MA » MASSACHUSETTS (all topics) » A New England Spin on an Ancient Sport - Candlepin Bowling
A New England Spin on an Ancient Sport - Candlepin Bowling

By Michael F. Bisceglia, Jr. | July 25, 2010

Football? For wimps. Hockey? Nothing to it. Soccer? Rugby? Mountain climbing? Fagetaboutit! Candlepin bowling? Now, there the ultimate test of endurance for a New Englander.

In 1366, King Edward III of England allegedly banned bowling, because his troops couldn’t concentrate on their archery.   (Possibly, the good king may have been sore because his team lost the big one in league competition).

Beginning in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1880, candlepin bowling has tested the physical ability (not so much) and frustration level (oh yeah, and then some) of generations of individuals seeking something semi-athletic and semi-social.   (It is a great first date for young women who want to hear what a prospective husband might say should he attempt to hammer a nail and miss).

How difficult can the game be? Looks easy enough – ten pins, a little less than 16" tall set in a standard bowling triangle, to be knocked down by a ball, about the size of the type used in croquet, weighing less than 3 pounds.   There are ten frames with three shots to a frame.   The pins knocked down (if any), stay down. The bowler gets to use (or avoid) them to attempt to cream pins still standing.

Speed doesn’t really matter.   Most bowlers throw something faster than a Tim Wakefield knuckle ball, and less than a supersonic Kurt Shilling fast ball. Accuracy is everything.   Hitting the head pin (the character in front of all the others), and part of one of the other two directly behind, is most desirable. Theoretically, the collision between the ball and pins should create an explosion sending pins into one another leaving nothing standing.   That’s the theory. The reality is the pins seem to exercise extreme courtesy in their attempts to try to avoid one another.

Is the game popular? You bet.   New Englanders will shovel out from a treacherous nor’easter; drive ten miles through winds and blinding snows; and trudge the length of a football field through hip-deep whiteness to meet teammates for league competition.

And, if someone from Bangor to Bristol has a fever of 105 to accompany two broken legs, she or he can always catch the pros whipping that little orb down the alleys on TV.   Nothing cures the flu faster than seeing a guy who should hit those little critters - miss!

“Ah, I could have made that shot.” (Cough) “What a choke!” (Wheeze) “What are’ at? The next alley?” (Sneeze) “I made that shot three times last week.” (Honk).

I took my wife (former desert rat from Las Vegas and a woman who had been recognized nationally for hitting a 265 in ten pin bowling) to the home of the true sport, a candlepinbowlerdrome, as part of her “get acquainted tour” of the region. “This looks like fun,” she cooed. She missed the first half dozen shots.

“Cursed things (not really an actual quote).”

She missed the next several shots.

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