If you grew up in the 50s and 60s you remember watching the PBA Bowlers Tour hosted by Chris Shenkel and Billy Welu, later replaced by Nelson Burton Junior after Welu passed away. Each week you anxiously waited as they counted down the top five finalists to see who was the top seed for the week. You watched each roll of the ball like it was the world series. And when the Firestone Tournament Of Champions came around in April, you watched as one bowler would win the greatest title of the year.
During this time you also had to hope and pray that there was an opening in a league by you. Bowling alleys were packed. Saturdays at the lanes, even the large 62 lane establishments, were wall to wall people. Many times there was a waiting list to get a lane. Mostly because of all the leagues that were bowling, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 at one time in an establishment.
Yes, bowling was all the rage and it was cheap. A game was about 50 cents. You could rent a pair of shoes for a quarter. Even if you didn’t use a house ball and bought your own, you could get one for about ten bucks. Even the really great bowling balls were only 30 or 40 dollars. Life was good. Bowling was fun.
So what happened? What happened that made it so that most bowling establishments closed down? What happened to send Chris Shenkel into retirement and take the Professional Bowlers Tour off of national TV? What happened to the game of bowling that has made it nowhere near as popular as it was back in the hey day when other sports like baseball are still thriving?
Nobody really knows for sure. There are theories as to what has happened to the game of bowling as far as popularity, but nobody can really point to one thing.
The most common theories are availability of other forms of entertainment and cost.
Back in the hey day of bowling, there wasn’t really a lot else to do. There were no computers, no Internet, no video games and quite honestly, compared to most other activities, the most fun to do. Plus, you had a whole baby boomer population to participate in the sport. Now, a lot of those baby boomers are just too busy with work and raising families to spend time at bowling alleys. The truth is, there just aren’t as many young people as there were in the 50s and 60s.
Probably the bigger factor is the cost. Bowling, which used to be the cheapest thing you could do outside of playing stickball in your backyard, has now become extremely expensive. Games go for as much as $3 a pop. Just to bowl 3 games and have a hot dog and a soda can cost a family of 4 close to $50. If you want to get your own bowling ball you could end up spending as much as $100. Bowling is just not a cheap date anymore.
Bowling will probably never completely die away, but without some kind of renaissance, it is unlikely that it will ever be what it was when we used to watch Don Carter roll a 300 game on national television.
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