Saturday, March 14, 2015

Memories of Parkway and Plamor

Update:  March 17, 2015, the luck of the Irish.  Jerry Damson will keep Plamor open until a new center is built in the area.
Until a new center is built in Huntsville?  The dealership owner is betting on loss of supply (bowling centers) and same demand (bowlers) mean profit for Jerry Damson Automotive Group.  Makes good sense.  You own the land.  Once the center starts to lose money on a consistent basis, just close the doors.

Original Post
Like a lot of people in this area, I was not born in Huntsville nor did I grow up in the Rocket City.  But, I have now lived more than half of my life in Madison County.  I have seen many changes to this city and have heard the history of Huntsville and the major events from the time of the growth due to the Apollo era. While growth in the city has changed certain parts of town, and the downtown area is starting its revitalization, certain other areas are diminishing.  Industries are growing and declining, and unfortunately, bowling is one of those industries in decline.  This national phenomenon has hit Huntsville.

On March 7, 2015, a fire destroyed AMF Parkway Lanes.  While this has nothing to do with the national decline in bowling, it accelerates the local problem as Plamor Lanes is scheduled to close at the end of April 2015.  What is the long term impact to the Huntsville and Alabama bowling community?  Is this a natural correction to the economics of bowling?  With less league bowlers, customers, youth bowlers, and potential new bowlers to grow the sport, losing one local center was probably inevitable in less than 10 years anyway.  In less than two months, there will be only 3 bowling centers remaining in Madison County; AMF Pin Palace (in north Huntsville), Madison Bowling Center (in Madison), and Redstone Lanes (on Redstone Arsenal).

AMF Parkway Lanes after the file (courtesy of the Huntsville Times)

My first visit to Huntsville, Alabama was in 1985 as a college senior.  Our division of the Southern Intercollegiate Bowling Conference (SIBC) held a round-robin league competition at a neutral location; Plamor Lanes.  Our division included Memphis State, Murray State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and another school than I cannot remember.  The SIBC existed from 1974 to 1998.  During 1985, Plamor was not known as the popular league and tournament location as it is today.  Most leagues were bowling at Pin Palace and Parkway at the time.  We, Memphis State, took the lead in the division standings after that week-end.  Jimbo Martin, currently one of Memphis' top local bowlers, was the tournament leader averaging in the 180's.  I averaged in the mid 170's.  The conditions were brutal.  That was not by design.  That was just the way Plamor was back then.  I learned decades later that our collegiate tournament was originally scheduled to be hosted at Pin Palace, but was forced to quickly re-schedule to Plamor, which had the lanes available for that week-end.  After I graduated college, I accepted a job in Huntsville.  I did not join a league at Plamor after remembering my college experience.  Plamor did, and still does, have the best video games.  I spent too many lunch hours playing Star Trek: Next Generation pinball and NBA Jam.

Plamor Lanes

Thomas Powers soon made league bowling a priority.  The Peterson Point league on Tuesday nights was a popular and large league in the 1990's.  I remember getting there ready to bowl, but awaiting the full first shift leagues still finishing.  The parking lot was full during this transition and it was hard to find a place to park.  I can't remember the last time I circled a bowling center lot looking for a place to park the car.  Plamor quickly became recognized as a high scoring house.  It grew the bowling base and business at Plamor.  However, I found it most frustrating.  During my height of league bowling when I bowled in multiple leagues during a season, I always bowled in different centers.  Plamor was known for the high probability of leaving half pocket corner pins.  While many bowlers increased their honor score count, I found it frustrating as it was easy to hit the pocket, some nights seemed impossible to strike, double, or throw a turkey.  Leaving corner pins, even when you made ball changes, changes in angles, and positions exacerbated me.  I laughed sometimes when I heard regular Plamor bowlers complain why they 'couldn't carry' when I thought that they should already know.  There were many nights that I could accurately predict a strike or what pins I would leave standing when my delivery crossed my target at the arrows.  It was a major accomplishment when I finally had an 800 series there.  I always enjoyed the Bowlers Advantage tournaments held at Plamor.  I do remember the 299 I had at Plamor on a Kegel Challenge Series pattern. 

No matter what you thought about the lane conditions, parking, clouds of cigarette smoke, loss of smoking, or anything else concerning the facility, Plamor had the best staff, most responsive to its customers.  They knew you, greeted you, and made you feel most welcome.  Thomas would always come up to you and tell you thanks for bowling in the tournament or league.  Looking back, that is a rare talent, as most bowling centers employees' now know less about the sport and business. 

Parkway was where I joined leagues when I first moved to Huntsville.  The Parkway Classic League was the city's oldest league.  I liked bowling leagues that had a history and longevity about them.  They were usually the more popular leagues that most bowlers wanted to join.  Sadly, as bowling league membership declined, this league lost many members.  The regulars stayed in while no new members were being added.  The last time I bowled in a Parkway league regularly was the 2011-12 season.  It was ironic to notice that I was now one of the older members in the league as I was one of the younger members in 1987.  As I would learn over the years, Parkway had the city's bowling history.  This was the house of Jimmy Certain and Tony Churchey.  Owner Pie Bates gave these gentlemen the support they needed for the PBA tour.  Pie was another one of those owners that appreciated his customers and greeted you.  You could see him at the center, bowling with you or against you in tournaments and leagues.  AMF purchased the center after Mr. Bates' death.  Parkway had the last, great scratch league.  Other scratch leagues were tried in Huntsville, but only drew the regular league bowlers from that house.  Parkway had the last scratch league where the best bowlers from around the city would join.  Those were the 'good ole days' when the bowlers would go to any house that had the best competition and sponsor added money.  I had my first 800 series at Parkway.  I still remember the camaraderie of my team, the bowling ball I used, and that final 10th frame.

AMF Parkway Lanes

Probably because of its rich history within its city, most people in town equated Parkway with bowling.  If my daughters said they were going bowling with friends, or going to a birthday party at a bowling center, I knew they meant Parkway.  All the people I knew from work or church identified bowling with Parkway.  If they came up to me and told me that they saw my name on a placard or sign at the 'bowling center,' I knew they had been to Parkway, even if these association signs and posters are at every bowling center.  A typical response to the question of where did you go bowling to the average open bowler was 'the one by the Huntsville Times.'

What does the future hold for Huntsville bowling?  Huntsville was unique to bowling in the south.   When I moved to the city, I found it unusual that if you stood on the roof of either Monarch Lanes, Plamor or Parkway, you could see the other ones.  You could run the loop of these three centers and still wouldn't have completed a 5k distance.  And Pin Palace was just up Memorial Parkway.  With Parkway gone, its leagues are finishing the season at Pin Palace.  I had to wait on the first shift to complete before we started the All Star League.  The wait reminded me of league bowling 20 years earlier.  Maybe the number of facilities remaining is all the bowling economy can handle.  There is a campaign to get AMF to rebuild Parkway.  I'm not sure that AMF feels the economic demand or chance at profit to do that.  In today's economy the land is more valuable than the bowling center sitting on it.  While Huntsville has only 3 bowling centers remaining, will that last?  Will another be built somewhere else.  Have you noticed the growth around Madison Bowling Center?  With Wal-Mart and the satellite businesses and shopping centers that usually build near a Wal-Mart, the land where Madison Bowling Center sits is now much  more valuable than when it was built in 1999.  Could it be the next to close and a new business be on that lot?

If you have any fond memories of Plamor or Parkway, please comment.    

Sunday, July 27, 2014


On July 26, 2014, I was honored to be inducted into the Alabama USBC Hall of Fame.  I wish to the thank the AUSBC for selecting me and for the pageantry and locale of the awards celebration.  I've received many congratulatory well wishes.  Below, I have included the transcript from my acceptance speech.

Hall of Fame members who attended the 2014 awards banquet at Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge. How many can you recognize?

In bowling, work, sports or activities, the real honor is being recognized by your peers and competitors for your superior achievements.  When my friends and I discuss what constitutes hall of fame qualifications, I always thought that, whatever those may be, I fell short.  I did not warrant consideration to be included in the group with Jimmy Certain, Nicky McLantoc, and Tony Churchey.  So, I humbly thank the Alabama USBC for my induction into the state bowling hall of fame.  Bowling has been a large part of my life for the past 40 years.  My grandfather and father were both champion bowlers in the Memphis area.  I’m proud that I could carry on that tradition.  My first perfect game was bowled in 1986 in the Memphis Italian Sportsmen League, one of the oldest leagues in Memphis.  I was privileged to have my dad, my brother, and my uncle on that team to witness the first perfect game in the history of that league.  Those were the golden times of league bowling.  I welcome my family here, and thank them for all the support over the years, which included dropping me off at the bowling center, driving me to youth tournaments, listening to me brag and complain when I couldn’t in front of anyone else.  You provided me advice and coaching.  And thank you for that one tournament in Memphis just a few years ago, where you were the only ones cheering for me while the whole house was rooting for my opponent in the stepladder finals.  I just needed some entrance music so I could complete the picture of being the WWE villain. 

I would also like to thank Jeff McCorvey for your friendship, expertise, coaching, and the knowledge of the game that you imparted.  As a pro shop owner, your wisdom to know that I cannot just buy a game was refreshing.  It still comes down to me.  Introducing me to the area’s top bowlers, tougher tournaments, including the ABC/USBC national tournament and allowing me to earn my spot on some of your top teams has led me to this moment tonight.  If I had not walked into your only pro shop in 1986, I would have only been a two-time a week league bowler, who occasionally bowled a city or state tournament.  Some of my best tournament experiences have been the successes and near-successes at the ABC and USBC Open tournaments.  I have been honored to have worn a McCorvey’s Pro Shop shirt during every competitive game I have bowled for the past 28 years.

It is painfully obvious that bowling has changed over the years.   The number of participants has dramatically decreased while the number of honor scores has dramatically increased.  I have tried to adapt to these changing times.  While I have not bowled anywhere near 30 perfect games in a 3 year period, my successes have spanned decades.  I have bowled perfect games in the past 4 decades, and I look forward to trying to increase that number.  Of the perfect games I have bowled, only three have much meaning to me.  I have already mentioned the first.  The second one occurred a month later where I bowled the first ever perfect game in Memphis State history at my last collegiate tournament.  The rarity of that experience was that I was awarded for an AJBC perfect game after I was awarded for an ABC perfect game.  The third one occurred during the 2006 USBC Open in Corpus Christi, TX.  In this day and age, where perfect scores are rarely announced, nor even congratulated, the USBC Open tournament still recognizes that a perfect game at their event is a significant accomplishment.  That perfect game will cost me dearly, as I will now travel to all future tournaments to hear my name announced before my team event, no matter my age or ability.  Some people bowl for money, I bowl for the sense of accomplishment and achievement.  It is a wonderful memory of having PBA and USBC Open champions, Marc McDowell, Mike Shady, and Jeff Richgels shake my hand and congratulate me after the completion of the squad.

Honor scores should not be the only way to get into the Hall of Fame.  Tournament victories should be the major component.  In bowling, par is no longer 200.  In 2014, it is 230.  Now compare the all-stars of today with the all-stars of the 1980’s and 1990’s.  In a tournament, it doesn’t matter if you averaged 200 or 230, as long as it is more than the field, or more than your opponent in the championship match.  A few years ago, I was disheartened about the sport of bowling.  League bowling was shrinking.  It was no longer enjoyable, as friends were quitting the game, and complaints of ‘inconsistent’ lane conditions increased.   There was a loss of camaraderie in the spirit of true sportsmanship.  Play the same golf course in February, May, July, and October and tell me if the conditions were consistent.  I was getting older, not yet a senior player, but it was getting difficult to compete with younger high speed, high revolution players in leagues and local tournaments.  Just this past year, I decided not to worry about it.  Time waits for no man, and tournament bowling was still an outlet that I enjoyed.  Putting no pressure on myself, I finished third in season points in an overall scratch tournament series that bowls on challenging lane conditions in the greater Nashville and Huntsville areas.  I was much older than the many of the bowlers in the top 10.  It was a great feeling knowing that, maybe, I did learn something over the years that still apply; consistency, accuracy, physical game adjustments, and experience.  Sometimes this trumps the young guy trying to overpower the pins.  Just recently, a fellow bowler came to me, and congratulated me on last season’s success.  “It was great to see one of us old guys up there,” he said.  I said thanks and then hesitated.  “That was a compliment, right?”

I am probably the last of my kind to be inducted into this hall; the more classic style with less speed and stroker delivery. I’m sure the ones that follow me will throw the ball harder, impart many revolutions on the ball, and possibly even use two hands to make a delivery.  However, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Success is also measured over time, and I look forward to more personal triumphs as I start my 5th decade of bowling competition.  Thank you once again for this great honor.  I will strive to represent myself worthy of hall of fame membership.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Picking Lillies

Bowling as a participation and spectator sport has changed greatly over the decades.  In your league,  does anyone stop and watch a bowler throw the final three shots for a perfect game?  Does any one clap when it occurs?  Is it even announced over the loudspeaker anymore?

Compare that event to another bowling situation.  An unlucky bowler is embarrassed as he has left the 5-7-10 split, otherwise known as 'the lilly.'  Now, how much noise is generated?  How many people now gawk?

On January 30, 2014, during the Monday Night Men's league at Madison Bowling Center, Kevin Ralston left the 5-7-10.  Hey, there is no crying in bowling!  He approached his second shot and converted the spare!!  This has to be one of the rarer feats in bowling.  There was no 6 pound ball involved or deliveries approaching 30 mph speeds.  While this is not Kevin's second shot, see if you can guess the weight of this bowling ball in how the lilly is typically converted, if at all:

Now, can we see how it is converted by real men with real bowling balls? There happens to be a video of Kevin's spare conversion, well, sort of.  While no one had their phone out thinking they would record a 5-7-10 spare conversion, the automatic scorer camera system can do a replay.
Now, a camera phone can record the replay.  Here is how it is done.

Congratulations Kevin.  You have probably set a record or accomplished something very few people have ever done in actual competition.  However, is it something you feel comfortable bragging about?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Unusual 300

Do you still remember the Andy Griffith Show?  One episode in season 8, Howard, The Bowler, told the story of the character Howard Sprague substituting on the local bowling team.  What makes this bowling night different?
He doesn't have a lot of experience so their expectations aren't too high but at the big match against the blowhards from Mount Pilot, Howard can do no wrong. With only one frame to go, Howard is still on his way to a perfect game. Just then, the power goes out forcing the end of the game to be re-scheduled for the next night.
 During the Huntsville All Star League on October 31, 2013, Billy Sales started the third game of the set with the first three strikes.  Just then, the electrical power went out in the bowling center.  During a very windy evening with potential storms threatening the area, a truck had hit a power pole which disrupted power in a section of the city.  While awaiting restoration of power, the league decided, in darkness, to conclude week 12 of the schedule the following week.  At the completion of this game, the league would then bowl the 13th week of the schedule.  Two possibilities were discussed for the following week.  These situations were discussed in the USBC rulebook rule 116c:
116b. Scores Lost
When game(s) or frame(s) within a game are irretrievably lost in the scoring process, the following procedures shall apply:
1. Scores that can be documented or agreed upon by the opposing team captains stand and the game shall resume from the point of interruption in regular order.
2. Scores that cannot be documented or agreed upon by the opposing team captains shall be rebowled, unless the board of directors rules them null and void.
On November 7, the league concluded game 3 of week 12.  Pin Palace, the bowling center, still had the scores which included the frames bowled.  The computer the center uses did have battery backup which saved the scores.

After one week, 70 year old Billy Sales proceeded to throw nine consecutive strikes for a two-week perfect game.  The fictional Howard Sprague only had to throw one strike the next night for perfection.  Billy threw 25% of his strikes during one week and the other 75% of the strikes seven days later.

So, congratulations to Billy Sales for this highly unusual perfect game to add to his repertoire of honor scores.  Of all his honor scores, I'm sure Mr. Sales will definitely remember this one.  

There is another footnote to this story.  Billy's teammate, Ernest Reese, almost did the exact same thing!  However, Ernest left one pin standing on November 7 to throw a two week 299 game.

Two honor scores bowled on the same pair of lanes that took seven days to complete!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sanction and Awards are not linked

As you know already, your USBC sanction fee has, again, risen.  Remember the years gone by when you paid this sanction fee as an afterthought from your wallet?  Now, you have to remember this expense as part of your first week of league as the fee is now equivalent or more than one week's league fees.  As fewer and fewer people are signing up for league bowling, it seems that this failed economic theory of increasing the tax of the remaining bowlers is applied. 

You can look at this in two very different ways.  I only bowl in one league per week.  I seem to bowl in more unsanctioned tournaments than sanctioned tournaments.  Now, the USBC is cutting the awards program even more.  What's in it for me?  How do we convince our friends and co-workers to join us for a night out each week in league bowling to grow the sport?  Does our company league really need to be sanctioned?  This seems tough to give a convincing argument.

As a community, we are supporting the sport of bowling by paying our membership dues.  The USBC provides the rules and standards for the game.  They ensure the quality of the playing field in our sport.  Can you imagine if bowling follows the eventual evolution of the boutique bowling experience?  A nicer facility will be an advantage, but it will be just a place for a nice date night.  Bowling is just an activity for a night out with friends and mixed drinks.  Bowling in tight dresses and the latest fashions will just be a setting, not a competition.  Who then would care if the lanes have arrows, pins are different weights, or oil on the lanes at all?  We are not competing, we are having fun.  It is a date, a corporate bonding event, or a long lunch.  Boutique bowling will be to the sport of bowling as miniature golf is to golf.

However, how many play golf but are not members of the USGA?  It is another competitive activity which we thrive to get better, much like bowling.  I would like to know my handicap, but I don't have to join the USGA to calculate it or endorse it.  But, my golf experience would only be equivalent to my bowling experience if I only open bowled or bowled practice games.  I would know my average, but it would not be under any sort of competitive conditions, much like my walks on the golf course, just spending 3 or 4 hours hitting the golf course.  The USGA is healthy, while the USBC is not.  We must bowl in sanctioned competitions, pay our sanction fees, recruit new bowlers just for the sport to survive.

Is it really important for the USBC to have an awards program?  They have wisely removed the 11 in a row award.  
"Given that more than 50,000 certified perfect games are rolled in a typical season, the board agrees it is unnecessary for the national governing body to provide awards for near perfection with the 11-in-a-row,"
Do you get an award for a hole-in-one?  A tournament may offer a prize for one, but there is no USGA ring for an ace.  Now, what do local bowling associations do?  They mistakenly take up the former task of the national organization.  They expand their awards to cover all the awards that the USBC has dropped.  With fewer sanctioned bowlers, they have increased their costs by offering more and more awards.  We have to remove this preconception that our sanction is only paying for awards.  Where are your patches, pins, medals, and rings?  I bet they are in a drawer somewhere.  This is getting to be the adult equivalent of the participation trophy that all kids in most sports get just for being part of the team; whether champion or last place.

I can understand why the USBC is going to a once-in-a-lifetime award for 300 games and 800 series.  It is not the unique event it was two decades ago.  Some people get into their local association hall of fame by bowling a handful of such scores.  We must raise the bar on these qualifications.  As I have mentioned before,  par is no longer 200.  Par bowling is now 230 and quickly rising more.  If you want to improve, compete, and be an elite bowler, par bowling must always be just more than what you average.  If you want another 300 ring or 800 ring for another finger, just go to eBay and get one.  The ones that will be hard to find, as I wouldn't sell mine either, are the ones awarded from the ABC/USBC national tournament, PBA tournaments, or sport shot leagues and tournaments.  Those are the awards that will last in our memories.