This all started because Rachel Williams' grandma got a Wii, a video game system. Give a grandma a Wii, and you know there's going to be trouble. Sure enough, Rachel's grandma got a big head, then she started trash-talking, and then, well, that gave us an idea. • We'd find some other Rachel's grandmas, closer to home, and challenge them. We'd let them score a few points, keep it close enough to make it resemble a real competition. Then we'd all hug and get our pictures made and go home feeling warm and smug. • Enter the PBT Mighty Bombers from Philip Benjamin Tower, a retirement community in St. Petersburg. They took their Wii seriously. They'd just won a tournament. • They jumped at our challenge. We hoped we wouldn't beat them too badly.
The Bombers greeted us sweetly. A quick coin toss determined that we bowled first. And then an ominous, casual remark: "This isn't Facebook," a Bomber said, for reasons we can no longer recall. "This is bowling."
Bowling first for the teen seniors was Domonic Botto, who's 18 and goes to Brandon High. He took out five pins. Picking up a spare was Liz Nordlinger, 18, a student at Lakewood High in St. Petersburg. Rachel Williams, who's 17 and goes to Gibbs High in St. Petersburg, took to her grandma's sport like a champ. Another spare.
We were holding our own. Liz even got cocky. She bowled underhanded, then behind her back. The crowd went wild. Well, wildish. They squealed and cheered. And the pins kept dropping. She added a hop, then a spin. A strike! Even with another player's gutter ball, we were golden.
The Bombers applauded politely, like bemused parents at a preschool holiday pageant.
"Let's hear some noise!"
David Baker, 72, grabbed the Wiimote handheld controller, radiating confidence. He faced the TV screen, lined up his loafers just so. That's when we noticed the ferocious eagle tattoo. On his bowling arm.
STRIKE! We all cheered.
STRIKE! Um? Yayyy!
STRIKE. STRIKE. STRIKE.
Bomber Anna Berkey, 84, looked over at us and grinned. "You all might as well go home."
She did not lie. When it was over, the Bombers had thrown 15 strikes. They beat us by an average score of 164 to 114. They hugged us, gave us cookies and juice, and sent us away reeking of shame.
REMATCH! We shouted. Or maybe, WiiMATCH!
• • •
"We've been practicing!" we insisted when we returned a month later.
"We'll see," said Bombers coach Dee Day, 68, seemingly unconcerned.
It was true. Not only had we practiced, but we'd made key changes to our lineup. Dino Della Noce II, 17, a Boca Ciega High senior from Gulfport, had once made the Top 16 in an international bowling tournament. How could we say no? We swapped him for a weak link. Kelly Price, who's 17 and is a junior at Durant High in Plant City, also subbed for another player.
We ordered T-shirts, pasted on eye black (to protect us from the fluorescent lighting and powder blue Bomber uniforms), fashioned homemade pompoms. Our ace Dino showed up with his arm in a cast, but even so, we felt prepared to overwhelm.
Those crafty Bombers knew how to rattle our resolve. They had real pompoms. They had written their own cheers. They even sang us a song. We suppose they hoped that adorable display would defuse our killer instinct.
This time they bowled first.
David Baker started with a spare. Betty Baker got a strike. But it wasn't as devastating as we'd feared. They seemed . . . off their game. Maybe it was because teammates David and Betty were now married, and their concentration was shaken. They cuddled off to the side, turning loose of each other only to bowl.
Anna Berkey seemed concerned. "We usually get more strikes."
Martha Oropallo, 90, shook her head at the defiant animated bowling pins. "They won't go down."
Splits happen! the crowd shouted.
Then Martha — who, by the way, is 90 — rallied with a strike. Anna got two. You had to admire their simple approach to the game. No strategy, no fancy moves.
Still, we hoped that with Dino in our arsenal, we'd dispatch them quickly, send them back to their bingo machine and half-finished lighthouse puzzle.
Sure enough, Dino started with a spare and accelerated from there. Something like fear must have washed over the Bombers.
Dino! Dino! Whoo!
Regrettably, bowling is a team sport.
Rachel, ferocious in her orange and green high-tops, did a little dance. But her grandma has nothing to fear.
"Get yourself together!" someone shouted.
Heavily outnumbered, lacking home-field advantage, we quickly fell apart. They creamed us, again, 180-131.
The Bombers were kind to us losers. Afterward, there was indeed some hugging. We all had our picture made. We left feeling warm and not the least bit smug.
And Bombers, we'll be back.