Duckpins a state sport? Surely you joust DUCKPINS -- MARYLAND'S REAL STATE SPORT

October 28, 1991|By Joel McCord

A sphere of hard rubber and plastic about the size of a softball flies down the hardwood lane and slams into 10 stubby pins that scatter like ducks at the sound of a shotgun blast.

Duckpins! Maryland's state sport!

John Stude, who has been pushing for years to have lacrosse named the state team sport, erupts in laughter at the suggestion. "I don't know of any Olympic duckpin team, but we sent a lacrosse team to the Olympics in 1932," he says.

Mike Virts, the nation's leading jouster, chuckles at the idea that anything such as bowling, duckpins or whatever could replace his sport on the list of state emblems.

"Really?" he asks, bemused.

Really, says a group of duckpin bowlers and proprietors of duckpin centers. In fact, they are launching a drive this week to gather thousands of signatures on petitions asking the General Assembly to name their activity as the official state sport.

For one thing, duckpin bowling was invented in the old Diamond Alleys on North Howard Street around the turn of the century by Wilbert Robinson and John J. McGraw, two members of the Baltimore Orioles International League team, they say. And Maryland is known throughout the country as a hotbed of duckpin bowling.

"We have a lot of people that come here from out of state, from England even, and they've got to try this game," says Glenna Grimes, proprietor of Riviera Bowl on Fort Smallwood Road in Riviera Beach. "Maryland is known as the state that bowls duckpins."

An estimated 250,000 people bowl duckpins annually, argues Walter Hall, president of the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America.

"How many of them do you think have ever jousted?" he asks.

Sure, bowling in general and duckpins in particular may have a Ralph Kramden-Ed Norton image -- especially compared with the Lords and Ladies of jousting -- but that's changing, insists

William L. Hunt Jr., president of the National Duckpin Bowling Congress.

"You see it on Home Team Sports now, and there are a lot of professional people involved," he says. "It's not a blue-collar sport anymore."

Many of the bowlers have asked for years why their sport isn't the state sport, Mr. Hall says. And this year, once the legislative redistricting problems and the fiscal crises have been dealt with, the duckpin boosters plan to make their move.

"We've talked to members of the legislature, and they said it was a great idea," Mr. Hall says. But he wouldn't name those members. "We thought we would let them make the announcement," he explains.

But the move is sure to run into stiff opposition.

Jousters, who showed up in medieval garb to oppose a bill to make lacrosse the state team sport in 1988, aren't interested in sharing the spotlight.

Jousting, in which riders use a lance to spear a ring hung on a string rather than spear each other as in medieval days, is "synonymous with Maryland history," Mr. Virts argues.

The first Englishmen to land in Maryland brought the idea of jousting with them. Its "color and pageantry are part of our heritage," he says.

"I'm not knocking duckpins or anything else, but if it was invented in 1900, jousting had already been here 300 years," Mr. Virts concludes.

Yeah, but the Iroquois, who developed the game of lacrosse, were here long before any Englishmen, Mr. Stude counters. And more people are involved in lacrosse than jousting.

"Hundreds of thousands of people in Maryland play the sport or view it. The Lacrosse Hall of Fame is on the campus of Johns Hopkins. Maryland has gotten an enormous amount of publicity because of lacrosse," he says.

But duckpin fans brush that aside.

"I didn't even know what jousting was," admitted Elizabeth "Toots" Barger, who started bowling duckpins at a center on Bel Air road 50 years ago and has won 13 national championships since.

"I thought it was when you tried to get the brass ring on the merry-go-round."

And as for numbers, Mr. Hall concedes that a number of legislators may have played lacrosse in their high school and college days, and some may even have jousted. But he's willing to bet that "there's not a member of the state legislature that has not bowled duckpins."

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