Dee Powell leaned on his cane, squinted through thick glasses and allowed that in all his 89 years, he hadn't seen anything quite like it.
Powell was viewing a down-home, country bowling carnival, probably the first ever in the United States. It was complete with Big Top, a live, walking bowling pin, a truncated bowling lane, jugglers and an all-women band complete with washboards and kazoos.
Powell sized up the crowd of about 1,500 strolling on what used to be the railroad yards and marveled at the number of bowling balls toted around by young and old alike.
"In all my years as a wrestler, mule-team driver, cabinet maker and Jack-of-all-trades, I've never seen anything like this," Powell noted. "Of course, I'm a bowler now, too, so I'm really enjoying all of this."
The occasion was the kickoff of the National Family Learn to Bowl program on Jan. 30, co-sponsored by the National Bowling Council and the Bowling Proprietors Association of America. Bowling Green, Fla., was selected for, you guessed it, its name.
Powell picked at his bib overalls and was about to say that he hadn't started bowling until he was 83 when 600 Bowling Green elementary school kids and their band kicked off the ceremonies with a parade down Main Street. The kids carried posters touting the Learn To Bowl theme.
The official festivities weren't scheduled to start until about 11 a.m., but a host of Florida state proprietors and ball-drilling teams had already carved into the first of 600 Columbia balls. Every family in the town of 2,400 was to get one free, custom-drilled.
It was the biggest happening in this Central Florida agricultural town since the last crop freeze. The nearest bowling center is in Wauchula, about three miles down the road from Bowling Green.
Hardee County Chamber of Commerce president Jim Beckley kicked off the ceremonies by introducing the dignitaries, and there were many: Gladys Banker, president of the National Bowling Council and the WIBC; Walter Hall, president, and Bill Blue, executive director, of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America; Bowling Green mayor Jackie Gibson, and Hardee County Commissioner James W. Harrison, to name a few.
A proclamation from Gov. Lawton Chiles was read. Arnold Schwarzenegger, chairman of the President's County on Physical Fitness and Sports, sent a letter. The Hardee County Cattlewomen's Association donated a portable bowling lane to the junior high and Harrison read a proclamation from the county commissioners.
A man fell down on the portable bowling lane, rolling his first ball ever; a boy in a "Learn To Bowl" T-shirt nailed a strike, and the aroma of grilled hamburgers wafted over the crowd on a gentle breeze.
Dee Powell shook his head and proclaimed, "It's great, just great."
Eight-house round-robin: The third annual 8-House Scratch Doubles Championship begins this weekend at eight centers in Hernando, Pasco, and Pinellas counties.
The two-day event is open to men and women and any combination of doubles teams is eligible. Entry fee is $80 per duo with the winners earning $800. Entries will be accepted up to one hour before the first start time. Team cap is 420 and bowlers will roll three games in each of the eight centers over two days, total pins wins.
Spring Hill Lanes opens the competition Saturday at 11 a.m. Bowlers then move to Mariner Lanes at 2:30 p.m., Hudson Bowl at 5 and Leisure Lanes at 7 p.m. Sunday's schedule starts at Lane-Glo Bowl at 11 a.m., followed by competition at Richey Lanes at 1 p.m.; Tarpon Lanes at 3 and Lane-Glo North Bowl at 5 p.m.
Ackerley wins third NABI: Clearwater's Tim Ackerley won his second straight NABI Club championship and third overall Feb. 9 at Countryside Lanes. Ackerley defeated Cindy Hay of Land O'Lakes and Bradenton's Roland Callaway to collect $1,500. It was the first time anyone has won two straight NABI events since the club was founded two years ago.
NABI events are at Tampa's AMF University Lanes and Ocala this weekend.
300 tournament set: The fifth annual 300 Tournament is scheduled Feb. 29 at Largo's Liberty Lanes. The event is open to any bowler who rolled a sanctioned 300 game during the 1991 calendar year in Pasco or Pinellas counties.
There is no entry fee; bowlers will roll three scratch games and the winner earns $300. Starting time is 1 p.m.
Ten Pin Trivia: Answer to last week's quiz: Vince Ciletti is president of the Suncoast Men's Association.
This week's quiz: The ABC Tournament started last Saturday in Corpus Christi, Texas. Has there ever been a team winner from Florida?
Around The Lanes: Bob Hensley fired a 300 game at Hudson Bowl last week. The Style Master 300 tournament visits Largo Lanes this weekend with a $19 entry fee and $1,000 to the winner. The Florida Bowling Queens drew 207 entrants for their 99th event March 7-8 at Merritt Island's Shore Lanes. The Queens' 100th tournament is scheduled for Clearwater's Countryside Lanes on July 11-12. The PBA tour is in Winter Haven on Feb. 25. Tarpon Springs' Steve Hoskins finished third in the PBA Southern Regional at Havelock, N.C., two weekends ago; the 1989 PBA Rookie of the Year plans to return to the pro tour this spring. The North Suncoast YABA Classic visits Hudson Bowl on Sunday.