Duckpin Bowling Hangs on in Maryland

Duckpin bowling was once the thing to do in many eastern cities. The light-pin bowling has all but vanished in most places. But it's still holding on in Maryland.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

Fifty years ago, duckpin bowling was the thing to do in a lot of eastern cities. The game with its squat-like pins and small balls has all but vanished in most places. But duckpin bowling is still holding on in Maryland.

David Kohn spent a recent Friday night at the AMF Lanes in Baltimore, where the regulars reflected on the decline of one of their favorite pastimes.

DAVID KOHN: Friday nights you can find Dominic Boochie(ph) at AMF Southwest Lanes, one of Baltimore's few remaining duckpin alleys. He's been bowling since he was a kid almost 50 years ago.

Mr. DOMINIC BOOCHIE (Bowler): Back in the day, I mean, that's the only way everybody bowled. I mean, I bowled off of Greenman Avenue in an upstairs on top of a A&P food store.

KOHN: Duckpin bowling first became popular in Baltimore a hundred years ago. It was a way to save on ten pins, which broke too often. Duckpins are smaller and tend to fly when hit. That's where the ducks comes from. The ball is the size of a large grapefruit, has no holes and is lighter than a ten pin ball.

Sue Burucker is president of the National Duckpin Bowling Congress. She says that in the old days, ducks were so popular people bowled just as they worked -in shifts.

Ms. SUE BURUCKER (President, National Duckpin Bowling Congress): The lanes they used to have people bowl, like, at 6:00 and then they'd have another league come in at 9:30, and the houses would be filled, both shifts.

KOHN: When Dominic Boochie was growing up in blue-collared Baltimore, all the kids bowled.

Mr. BOOCHIE: If you were in, like, a parochial school, they used to have, like, Wednesdays, get leagues for kids, third, fourth, fifth grade.

KOHN: These days, most of the city's factories are closed, as are many duckpin alleys. But you wouldn't know it on this and every Friday night at AMF Southwest.

Mr. BOOCHIE: (Unintelligible) back-to-back day.

KOHN: Thirty-six of the best duckpin bowlers are here not just to reminisce but to compete for the princely sum of $4,000. Sue Burucker says the league is the high point of her week.

Ms. BURUCKER: I mean, I have some friends that I would have never had had it not been for this game. And I always say that the camaraderie is one of the best things about the game besides the competition. You just make lasting friendships and you share births and deaths and marriages and divorces. It's pretty close.

KOHN: For NPR News, I'm David Kohn in Baltimore.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Bowl")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Let's bowl, let's bowl, let's rock and roll. Hey come on, let the winner take all. We're gonna score tonight. We're gonna score tonight. Don't get scorned when you lose tonight, we're gonna show you how to do it right. We're gonna score tonight, we're gonna score tonight. We're gonna roll, we're gonna rock, we're gonna roll, we're gonna rock, we're gonna roll…

SHAPIRO: This is NPR News.

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