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Church league is like family for bowlers

I think I've discovered about 40 of the "thousand points of light"right out here in Largo, at Twedt's Lanes.

They're a delightful mix of senior bowlers who call themselves the Calvary United Methodist Church League, founded 22 years ago the day Twedt's Lanes opened. These folks are articulate, friendly and fun-loving and act as if they don't have a care in the world.

Even brief conversations with them, however, reveal nearly a century of living history, a remarkable endurance and resilience and a colorful cross section of Americana. They have lived long, fruitful and often painful lives, and bowling is their panacea, more a social than physical activity.

"They are grand people, and I've grown attached to them over the past nine years," said Jane Gossett, league coordinator for the center. "The league goes every Thursday, year around, is not sanctioned and is about as loosely run as any I've seen. They prefer it that way."

Visitors pop in every week, discover the fun and friendship and join up. They walk in the door, take a number tag and Jane assigns them a lane, often with folks they've never met before. There's no pressure for high scores, no awards or trophies, no league roster or standings.

They're liable to bowl with retired chief executive officers, nurses, salespeople, bankers, lawyers or steel workers. Soon, they've melded together, shared their life stories and become an inspiration to each other.

John Matthews went through a hip replacement five years ago, but that's not the reason he walks backward up to the foul line, turns and rolls the ball. "I've got Parkinson's Syndrome and it's difficult and painful for me to step forward," he explained. Matthews is 83 years old and averages 111.

Stan Fisher worked 43 years as a salesman in Cleveland before retiring here 43 years ago. He calls himself "a low vision bowler."

That means he's legally blind. "I can see the spots (arrows on the lanes), so I spot bowl," he said. "My wife, Evelyn, keeps score and calls out the pins to me." He's averaging 135, bowls in two leagues at the center and is quite happy, thank you.

Theola Forsythe started bowling the day the house opened and has been in the league ever since. She's not bowling much today because of a recent cataract operation, but hopes to be back soon.

Lewis Crawford walked in a month ago and took a number. "I've never met such nice, friendly people in all my 93 years," he said. He got married last April for the second time. His wife of 65 years died in 1987.

"It's amazing how quickly these people recuperate from an illness, operation or family tragedy," Gosset noted. "They have so much vitality and spunk and I think the friendship here has a marvelous healing effect."

Barbara Stock and Hazel Keating have been in the league 14 years.

Both have lost husbands and they feel like the league members are a family for them.

Dorothy and Fred Williams have been married 56 years, but never bowl together. "He's on lane No. 5, I'm up here on lane nine, by choice," Dorothy said with a chuckle. "I've been bowling longer than he has and we just feel it's better this way."

So much for family.

Jean Walker acts as league treasurer, the closest thing it has to an officer. She takes up a collection and, through the years, the nickels and dimes have added up. "We've bought adding machines, rugs, window blinds, flowers and other fixtures for the church," she noted. "It's amazing how generous they are."

Grace and Tony Antolini discovered the league in 1978 while on vacation from Toledo, Ohio. "The first thing I noticed was everyone smiling," Tony said. "We joined up 11 years ago."

"I liked the idea of no sanction, bowl when you want to and no league officers and such," Grace said. "Most of these folks are on fixed incomes and the ABC-WIBC dues are so high now we can't afford them. It's more fun this way."

Charles Talkemeier celebrated his 83rd birthday and the house provided the cake, as it does every month for its birthday people.

"I try to keep a list of birthdays and that's about the only thing official about this league," Gossett said.

The folks in the Calvary United Methodist Church League simply prefer it that way.

ABC nationals open: The 87th annual ABC National Tournament began last week in Reno, Nev., with a familiar name already in first place.

Last year's team champion, Chilton Vending of Wichita, Kan., took the early lead with a 3,104 pinfall in the Regular division.

Chilton Vending team member ABC Hall of Famer Don Johnson took the singles lead with a 764 series. Vince Mazzanti Jr. and Bob Griffith, Indianapolis, grabbed the early doubles lead with a 1,397. The event ends June 5.

Around the lanes: Cleve Bothwell fired a 300 game, 739 series at Largo Lanes last week and Steve Rozell managed a 300-696 at Countryside Lanes. Rainbow Lanes' competitors turned in 10 700 series, including Jim Valentine's 298 game. Clearwater's Larry Dole won the NABI event at Liberty Lanes last weekend with Jay Spahn second and Joe DeVries third.

The Suncoast Men's Association City Tournament begins Feb. 17 at Rainbow and Tarpon lanes. The National Amateur Bowlers Inc. (NABI) will move into Pasco County March 24-25 at Hudson Bowl. Lane-Glo Bowl will play host to the tour April 28-29. Marty Murphy rolled a 279-805 at Liberty Lanes.