IF you had a vote, what would you pick to be Maryland's official state sport?
Jousting? A glorification of war practiced by a minuscule number of zealots in tiny towns miles from nowhere?
Or duckpin bowling, a fine, all-weather, clean-scrubbed sport that hundreds of thousands -- maybe millions -- of Marylanders can enjoy?
And besides, Toots Barger bowls duckpins.
Toots is 73. She's bowled since she was an ingenue and she still laces up her bowling shoes three times a week, for league play in Arbutus and Dundalk. Toots, whose real name is Mary Elizabeth and who was known as Tootsie before her bowling days, was the national champion female duckpin bowler for 13 years.
"It's the most wonderful exercise for everybody and anybody at any age," says Barger. "It teaches you to concentrate. Coordination is a wonderful thing for everyone to have."
Barger and her fellow duckpinners are now on a crusade to spread the message about the elfin-equipped sport. Actually, the owners of the state's approximately 50 duckpin bowling alleys are on a crusade: They've hired a public relations firm and are starting a petition drive to make duckpin bowling our official state sport. After all, it was invented at Diamond Alleys on Howard Street in Baltimore, and Maryland is, without question, the Mecca of duckpin bowling.
"For a number of years now, people have said, why isn't duckpin bowling recognized by the state," says Wally Hall, a Briton (of all things) who is the president of the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America. "We sort of said we don't know. This year we decided perhaps we should do something about it."
Well, duckpin bowling has a long way to go. By Chapter 134, Acts of 1962, the Maryland General Assembly designated jousting as the official state sport.
If you're new to the state, there's no blood involved in Maryland jousting. Not even any armor. Instead, horseback riders, galloping along, attempt to spear a series of three Oreo-sized rings suspended by thread. Thrilling? Well, kinda. Easy to take part in? Well, sure, if you want to invest in a lance and a 2,000-pound eating machine.
But, once you get something on the law books in Maryland, it can be mighty hard to get it off.
If the duckpin bowlers bring their cause to Annapolis, they should be prepared to shell out for some seriously good lobbyists in what could turn into an old-fashioned city vs. country fight.
"It's something I promise you I would work against," vows state Sen. Bernie Fowler, a Democrat from Southern Maryland, where jousting is still popular. "I think any effort to erode the importance of our current symbol would be, as far as I'm concerned, unacceptable."
Actually, it could turn into a three-way battle, if the lacrosse lobby gets involved. A couple of years ago, the lacrosse crowd tried to gain official status for their sport. The jousting lobby rose up and killed the lacrosse bill in committee.
State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who lives in Calvert County, says he is staying out of any battle, but he does point out that there is a jouster -- a real jouster -- on the obverse side of the Maryland state seal.
"Jousting has been going on for a long time in our state," says Goldstein.
But who knows how this fight might turn out. After all, Maryland has an official song that is an ill-tempered tirade against the federal government, an official fossil that is the shell of an extinct snail, and a fish that you can't catch.