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For more than a century, the U.S. Bowling Congress has been headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city known for its love of beer and bowling, especially when the two are combined.

But recently, the congress said it wants to move to Texas. That's a giant gutter ball that quite a few locals were worried about the city's identity.

From member station WUWM in Milwaukee, Erin Toner reports.

ERIN TONER: With 72 lanes, AMF Bowlero in suburban Milwaukee is one of the biggest bowling centers around, and tonight every lane is occupied.

Members of the team Village Bowl Pro Shop are wearing blue T-shirts with their names embroidered on the back. Before the game starts, the older women are popping Advil and washing them down with Miller Lites. Vickie Kutz says 37 years of bowling make her bones ache.

Ms. VICKY KUTZ (Member, Village Bowl Pro Shop Team): Oh, my back, my elbow, when you're 48 years old you get little aches and pains here and there.

TONER: Kutz says while it's not the end of the world if the Bowling Congress packs up and leaves, she'd still be disappointed.

Ms. KUTZ: And it's synonymous with Milwaukee. In a way I think it kind of hurts.

TONER: The Bowling Congress was brought to Milwaukee in 1907 by local businessman Abe Langtry, who ran 24 bowling lanes on three levels of a downtown office building. German immigrants had brought the game to Milwaukee about 25 years earlier, and taverns and even churches all over town built lanes in their basements. Doug Schmidt wrote a book about Milwaukee's bowling history, and so the game grew more popular with a local guy at the helm of the Bowling Congress and a city mayor willing to look the other way.

Mr. DOUG SCHMIDT (Milwaukee Bowling Historian): Milwaukee was a wide open town in 1905 compared to Chicago even. There were - a lot of businessmen came up to Milwaukee to party.

TONER: And the Bowling Congress has been here ever since. Schmidt says when USBC membership peaked 30 years ago, it was clear Milwaukee had become America's tenpin capital.

Mr. SCHMIDT: Per capita, no city ever matched Milwaukee for the number of people who participated in the sport.

TONER: But even here, the sport has declined as factories closed and workers stopped filling bowling alleys night after night. And of course, bowling's competing now with lots of less dark and smoky ways to spend an evening. Membership in the USBC has dropped from nine million to 2.5 million today.

Jack Mordini is a USBC vice president.

Mr. JACK MORDINI (Vice President, U.S. Bowling Congress): The social aspects of bowling are still there, but we don't see as many people joining leagues and committing to 25 to 35-week schedules as we used to in the past.

TONER: In January, the USBC said it's planning to move its 200 employees to Arlington, Texas where the bowling proprietors' group is located, and where, it says, it costs less to do business. Milwaukee officials say they're in talks with the group to try to keep it from leaving.

(Soundbite of people bowling)

TONER: At the bowling center in suburban Milwaukee, team Village Bowl Pro Shop is wrapping up its first game. Before she bowls the 10th frame, Jen Grisham says the USBC's location is more than just symbolic.

Ms. JEN GRISHAM (Member, Village Bowl Pro Shop Team): We have a lot of good bowlers that actually work at the headquarters that bowl in our leagues here and make the leagues competitive.

TONER: And these women are certainly competitive.

Unidentified Woman: Yeah.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

Unidentified Woman #2: All right. Come on. Great bowling.

TONER: Grisham just bowled a 191. Her teammates score 180, 213 and 225. They all say they could have done better and order another round of beers.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Toner in Milwaukee.

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