September 17, 2003


Free-range bowling is right up my alley (Todd R. Nelson, 9/17/03, CS Monitor)

It all started on my weekly trip to the town transfer station, formerly known as the dump. There, languishing by the caretaker's shed, were two perfectly good full-size bowling balls. One was a shiny black, and the other had a red-and-black swirl like 1930s linoleum.

Since I cannot resist the allure of a useful item that someone has put up for grabs, even if I have no present use for it, I loaded the bowling balls into my van, alongside the other treasures: a roll of house wrap, several pressure-treated two-by-sixes, an empty gas can, and an old electric fan.

When I pulled into the driveway, I couldn't wait to give the bowling balls a test spin. The finger holes were a mite tight, but workable. I swung my arm back, aimed, and let 'er roll. Across the gravel and into the clover it went, bumping over sticks and through divots and mini-swales. The dogs tried to chase and fetch it, like curling sweepers guiding a stone to the icy bull's-eye. What fun. Free-range bowling!

This oughta be a sport, I thought.

Little did I know that it already was, complete with an association and a devoted, if quiet, league of players. In fact, at their summer meeting, the Castine Off-neck Free-Range Bowling Association (COFRBA) decided it was time to petition the International Olympic Committee to include their sport in the 2004 Athens Olympiad. I concur. Being the association's newest member, I am not its best spokesman. But I now consider myself an Olympic hopeful. I'm in serious training, thanks to my coach, Tom Curry, the game's master.

Anyone can bowl on a flat floor with perfectly contoured gutters to contain errant rolls. Where's the challenge in that? But try bowling on something called "a course," instead of "an alley," with topography and unpredictable wildlife hazards. I'm talking about a woodland floor with stumps, rotten logs, mole tunnels, and red squirrels scolding from high in the treetops. Try targeting the pins (10 spruce logs arranged in the customary flying-V formation - but that's all that's customary) by planning a banked shot off a fieldstone wall, hoping you've put enough "mojo" on the ball to come out of the pine-needled crater in the lee of a tamarack stump. And try swinging the big free-range ball while swatting the swarming mosquitoes of late-summer Maine. Until then, you just don't know the true meaning of bowling.

It's fair to call free-range bowling a hybrid sport.

Not quite Human Frisbee Golf, but it'll do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 17, 2003 9:45 AM

Bowlin' Bowlin' Bowlin'
Those bowlin' balls are rollin'
'Cross streams and rocks they're bowlin'
Free range!
Don’t try to understand it,
Just find a ball and grab it,
Soon you’ll be throwin' three hundred.
Get a ball, pick it up,
Pick it up, four-step throw,
Throw a ball, bowlin' ball, free range!
Pick it up, get the spare,
Throw a strike, throw a spare,
Throw a ball, bowlin' ball, free range!

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 17, 2003 10:34 AM

Must not be any pig farms in his neighborhood.

In the Midwest, there's a good demand for retired bowling balls. You put 'em in hog confinement houses to keep the hogs amused. Otherwise, they tend to pile up in the corners and smother the ones on the bottom.

Doesn't take much to amuse a hog.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 17, 2003 2:55 PM

Free-range sounds nice.

But I would think overhand (10-pin) bowling should be declared New Hampshire's official state sport.

(Side arm also permitted.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at September 18, 2003 5:09 AM

Since many of Athen's Olympic venues have yet to be completed, free range bowling might be the ONLY sport possible amidst the debris.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 19, 2003 7:58 AM

Do you know why a marathon is 26 miles, 365 yards?

That is not the running distance between the battlefield and the Acropolis, which is more like 22 miles. It is the distance between the two by the coastal road, which is where they had to run the race in 1896, so a British gunboat could keep the runners from being murdered by Greek bandits.

I don't know what Human Frisbee Golf is, but I am proud to say that I am the co-inventor of Frisbee Marathon Relay (one of the other co-inventors is a New Hampshire man), world record holder and a Whamm-O Frisbee Immortal, enshrined on the Wall of Fame somewhere in L.A.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 19, 2003 5:21 PM