Students Bowl For Credit, Fun
by Jacob Kramer-Duffield

The word “renaissance” is often misused in an attempt to magnify the meaning of an event or trend that is, in the grand scheme of things, rather inconsequential. That being said, there is currently a renaissance in bowling at Oberlin. And the main catalyst behind this renaissance is, without a doubt, Assistant Director of the Student Union Tom Reid, the man who runs College Lanes.
Reid, a 1980 Oberlin graduate and self-described “FTL big-time,” has dedicated his life at Oberlin to spreading the good word of bowling. “I never wanted to go to college –– I just wanted to bowl,” Reid said. Unable to secure a job his first semester at Oberlin, he eventually worked at the lanes Friday and Saturday nights in the spring and has been there ever since, building bowling at Oberlin into the institution that now exists.
Built in 1963, the bowling alley received its first upgrades more significant than carpet on the walls, in the summer of 2000. Included in the renovations were the glow-in-the-dark decorations and the underground ball return. “As the 21st century dawns, we finally move into the 20th century,” Reid said.
Reid has worked hard to increase interest in and understanding of bowling. “When I first started here, the guy who was running the bowling alley told me one thing: ‘Whatever you do, don’t start an intramural league.’” By the spring semester of Reid’s first year running the bowling alley, there were 11 intramural teams, and from the spring of 1986 until the fall of 1991 there were never fewer than 12 teams any semester –– or even during Winter Term. However, interest in intramural bowling flattened out in the mid-1990s. But there has been an upswing since 1998 –– last spring featured 15 teams, the most in eight years, and there are already 16 teams this semester.
Reid has also developed bowling at Oberlin through his bowling classes offered through the athletics department and the intercollegiate bowling team, a club sport. According to Reid, the team has been going strong recently. “We typically had four strong bowlers, and since you have to have five for competitions, we would have to take someone from the intramurals. But the last two or three years, we’ve had a couple dozen people on the team; it’s gotten to the point where we have to pick and choose who goes to tournaments.”

In addition, Reid said, “The physical education classes have been very popular lately. It got to the point last spring that I got an e-mail from a senior who tried to register on the first day or registration but couldn’t get in.” After jumping through a number of hoops, Reid was able to open a second section of the class, which also filled up. “The advanced class last spring had 18 students, and has 13 this semester. These are hard-core bowlers –– you have to have your own ball, fitted to your hand, to get into the class. It’s such a frustrating class for me because it’s only 50 minutes and I have to pack in everything I need to say and have them do. The registrar wouldn’t let me have them for an eight-hour day.”
A member of the advanced bowling class, sophomore Tricia Hinrichs thinks that the recent additions have added to bowling’s popularity at Oberlin. “I think glow bowling has a lot to do with the popularity,” she said. “It’s college students with a dark place and black lights and balls that glow.”
Sophomore Adam Carlson attributes the success of bowling at Oberlin to “The fact that there is a bowling class; a lot of schools don’t even offer one. Tom [Reid] is a lot of fun, and he gives a lot of hands-on personal instruction.”
Another key to the recent resurgence in Oberlin bowling has been the free bowling on Tuesday afternoons. With staff wages paid for by Director of Recreation and Intramurals Betsy Bruce, the operation of the bowling alley in those hours is free. “There has been much more student use in the last five or six years,” Reid said.
Junior Neil Freeman has been an employee of College Lanes since last fall. He said that he “Picks up a lot just watching [Reid’s classes]. I’d like to bowl more but I just don’t have the time.” Freeman also gives Reid much of the credit for bowling’s success at Oberlin; “I think it’s Tom. People like taking activity classes and getting credit for bowling, [but] Tom really illuminates them in amazing fashion.”

Senior Nate Marsh was a first-time bowler coming into Bowling I this semester, and admits, “I was a bit apprehensive at first, didn’t quite know what to expect and there were already some pretty talented kids in the class, but Tom quickly put my fears at ease. He basically starts everyone at square one, and builds you into a crazy bowling machine. He’s not afraid to actually give real instruction in an athletics class, which is refreshing, and it’s obvious he knows his shit. It makes you really respect bowling.”
Nationally, bowling membership has been declining since Reid’s first came to College Lanes from 1980 to 1981. But as national leagues were in steep decline in the 1980s, College Lanes built up their membership among community members. “We got to the point where we were making a profit on the lanes, and that allowed us to survive so that now we can focus on students.” However, things have not always been so rosy for College Lanes, and according to Reid, “There were some years in the late ’80s and early ’90s when the College grudgingly operated the bowling alley, and there wasn’t much student use.” Even College Lanes’ leagues have been declining over the last several years, but nationally membership declined by only six percent, which Reid sees as encouraging. “It’s still one of the largest participation sports in the world –– over three million people in this country bowl.”
There is a long history of bowling at Oberlin, as evidenced by the 1200-member-strong Oberlin College Alumni Bowling Association. Every year at Commencement, alumni bowlers come back to face off against current intercollegiate team members. So too is there Oberlin bowling in Reid’s blood; “My parents were both class of ’45, and my dad’s job was working in the bowling alley where the Rathskellar is now,” Reid said.

In addition to Reid, College Lanes is staffed by five student employees and two non-student employees. The non-student employees help Reid shoulder the burden during times when school is not in session, since the bowling alley is open year-round.

Of the current clientele, Reid said that, “Even in community business it’s more stuff like birthday parties and church groups, from even the east side of Cleveland. This is the only bowling alley in northeast Ohio where you can’t smoke or drink.” Indeed, College Lanes provides one of the few social venues at Oberlin which lacks vices but still packs in the kids.

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