Bowling rolls on with new innovations

As everything in life moves forward, technology drives new challenges and opportunities in the sport of bowling.

Technology in the sport has progressed with new lane conditioners, bowling ball design and scoring capability.

In 1946, the first automatic pin setter was shown to the public in Buffalo, N.Y. The machine was invented by Godfried Schmidt in his garage. The patent for the pin setting machine later was bought by the American Machine and Foundry Company; AMF. Shortly after, in 1952, the automated pin setter was in production.

With this invention, bowling was starting to look like a professional sport. No longer were the “pin boys” needed as this machine could run for hours. Now you could bowl without delay and enjoy the sport.

In the 60’s, the first plastic or polyester bowling ball was manufactured. Another patent was filed in 1970 for the first automated score keeper. Now you could sit back and watch your score being automatically calculated as your bowling ball rolled back up the ball return.

Bowling balls used in the early 1960s and 70s were hard rubber or plastic compounds. Bowlers would rely on accuracy and speed to point the ball into the pocket. Speed was the key to success with earlier bowling balls. As innovation progressed, urethane was developed to increase friction on the lane surface -so more power was created to increase a bowler’s ability to throw strikes..

In 1981, Ebonite began manufacturing the first polyurethane bowling ball and sold the rights of the ball to AMF. In the late 1980’s, Columbia produced the first reactive resin bowling ball and technology took another giant step forward. In the first full season with the use of the reactive resin ball on the Professional Bowlers Tour, the number of 300 games was increased by 20 percent, according to the ABC.

After 1990, the dynamic balance of the bowling ball was being totally reconfigured and changed. No longer were you bowling with a hard ball compounds; you’re now bowling with technology.

Jim Pencak, a professional bowler with four national titles, says “you need the ability to adapt your game/style to the equipment while using your experience to make the proper moves to be successful on the lanes. Many bowlers do not have a clue on how to use the technology at their disposal because they lack experience on the lanes. Many display ability but do not marry the proper equipment with the situation they are bowling in.”

“Education on how to use technology and how to play these modern patterns would be a great start, but experience still has the advantage,” says Pencak. “The bowlers know their own game, equipment and ball motion is the most important aspect of success on the lanes today, especially when the lanes rapidly change as games are bowled.”

Women bowlers have benefited from technology. Lou Gabel, an amateur bowler from Cambridge, Ohio, says, “I started bowling on maple lanes in the early 1970s with a plastic ball.” As new ball development progressed, so did her scores, but today’s synthetic conditioners called for her to invest in more equipment to keep up with the varying lane conditions.”

“My experience has enabled me to keep bowling, but without the new balls my scores would be dropping off the face of the earth.”

“Technology has improved many elements in the sport, but experience is still required to maintain a high-level of performance,” Gabel said.

Kelly Kulick, a women’s Professional Bowlers Tour regular, became the first woman to win a PBA Tour title by beating Chris Barnes in the final of the 45th Tournament of Champions in 2010. She outscored Barnes 265-195 to take home the $40,000 first prize and a two-year PBA Tour exemption. Several other women pro bowlers have made their mark on the men’s tour.

Bowling provides an activity for today’s youth to achieve many advantages in sports and life. Some Mid-Ohio Valley junior bowlers are regular competitors on the Junior Bowling Regional Players Tour. The JBRPT provides a competitive atmosphere for youngsters to challenge their beginning skills in tournament play and on professional bowling patterns. Ben Lewis III of Pittsburgh is the JBRPT founder and director.

The tour is divided into four different divisions based on submitted average. The JBRPT is committed to offering junior bowlers a quality, well organized tour with quality bowling centers in which to compete for scholarship money and awards.

Lakyn Edwards of Parkersburg won the season points title in Division 2. Edwards, a 12-year-old, threw a perfect 300 game on Jan. 25 this year. She has earned a spot to compete in the Junior Gold Championships on July 14-18 in Buffalo, N.Y. She will be competing in the U-12 Division (12 years old and younger).

Development of lane surfaces has changed the sport. In the early years, centers were equipped with maple lanes. Different types of polishes were applied to alter the amount of friction created by bowlers. Technology progressed with oiling machines, ball compounds and synthetic lanes.

Synthetic surfaces presented the opportunity to lay out lane oil patterns that make targeting easier.

One group of bowlers that benefited by technology on the lanes and video scoring is senior citizens. Ben Ruble, a 75-year-old bowler from Athens, Ohio, says, “his strength and mobility has depleted over the years, but not his drive to bowl.” Ruble has been bowling for more than 45 years in several centers. “Bowling has allowed me to retain friendships, gain exercise and find a challenge in my later years.”

“Bowling is easier with new balls due to my lack generating of speed, but the difficulty remains oily lanes.” Ruble commented on scoring by say, “video monitors allows seniors to socialize with friends, instead adding low numbers.”