FREDERICK, Md. (AP) – It was easy to see Jackie McMahon laughing, but not so easy to hear over the cacophony of popping pins and rolling balls.
One by one, her friends went to her shot. They picked up the little bowling ball and swung it down the alley. Mostly they were celebrated with cheers, claps, or a ringing bell – courtesy of McMahon and the half dozen companions who surrounded them.
“Everyone here is happy,” she says with a smile. “We just get along. Nobody is uptight. “
McMahon and a rotating cast of about 20 other seniors from the Frederick area gather at the Walkersville Bowling Center every Thursday for an afternoon of duckpin.
Regular participants say it is a source of exercise and joy that they look forward to every week.
The crew doesn’t meet on Thanksgiving, said George Miller, 80. But on all other Thursdays of the year – with the occasional Christmas or New Years exceptions – they stay in Walkersville. For many regulars, it’s a familiar and often calming environment. After losing his wife on Christmas Day last year, Miller said he went bowling the next Thursday. It helped to keep busy.
“Life goes on,” he said. “You have to go on.”
Miller, who has been bowling with the group for 15 years, said the group kept him busy and entertained over the years.
Bowling Alley Assistant Manager Tracy Smith welcomes bowlers every week for the seven years she has worked there. She knows most of them by name, she said with a smile from behind the food counter.
They were back on the streets the same week the alley reopened after the pandemic shutdown, she added.
“These are good people,” said Smith. “You like your bell.”
Many of the members of the group, organized by the Frederick County Senior Recreation Council, have been doing the same thing for two decades or more. Some are teased as “newbies” because they have only been there for a few years.
But the newcomers are also cheered on with a bell ringing, the piercing sound echoing through the small room.
Duckpin bowling is open to almost everyone, said Gerald Blessing, the group’s senior coordinator. The balls are much smaller and lighter than traditional bowling balls, and so are the pins. The players get three throws instead of two.
Walkersville Alley is the only establishment in the county that offers duckpin bowling these days, Blessing said.
Blessing recalls a regular participant who recently died at the age of 96. Blessing said he bowled until about a year before he died.
“Anyone can do it practically,” he said.
Members come and go, said Blessing. But he’s always surprised that the turnout is no higher given the ease and fun of Duckpin. The Senior Recreation Council, which offers Frederick residents over 50 activities, is best known for its exercise classes, Blessing said, some of which can attract more than 100 people.
The group’s presence has now almost fully recovered from a severe slump during the pandemic, he added.
Bowling club members stop playing when injuries or illness occur, and new seniors keep joining the group. But even if the core group shifts, the camaraderie remains.
Someone is holding points every week, jotting down the points on plastic wrap and displaying them on an old-fashioned overhead projector. But really, the players said, it’s not about competition.
At a meeting in August, they tossed friendly pokes back and forth across the streets. They chatted on television – who’s running Jeopardy? – and their children and grandchildren. A container of cupcakes was melted on the table brought in to celebrate Nancy Shore’s 80th birthday.
“Everyone just mixes together and has a great time,” said Shores.
When the afternoon came to an end and the final results were counted, the carefree atmosphere remained unchanged.
“All right ladies!” exclaimed a woman happily. “Last picture!”