State sport should be revised to require less snorting, drooling

MICHAEL OLESKER

November 03, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

This is to announce, with all proper dignity and respect for the occasion, that I stand at the foul line with Toots.

If she wants duckpin bowling to be the official state sport of Maryland, who could argue? Not me. I still owe Elizabeth "Toots" Barger a debt of gratitude, following a series of unscheduled absences of mine from Sunday school in 1957, when she was kind enough not to notice.

Toots wasn't my Sunday school teacher. She was owner of the Liberty Heights Bowling Academy, where several of my friends (who shall go nameless, in case the statute of limitations has not yet run out) and I would play hooky.

But mostly, to be certain, I stand with Toots because she is right.

She is right when she says duckpin bowling should be the official sport of the state of Maryland, and she is right when she declares, "What is all this jousting nonsense?"

Jousting?

Jousting is the state sport of Maryland?

And we're admitting it in public?

Jousting involves a person getting atop a horse and galloping along until he or she sees some little ring hanging from a thread. And then the person atop the horse uses a lance and tries to spear the little ring.

And there you have something that resembles not a sport but a carnival ride.

I weep for a state which:

a) Calls this a sport; and

b) Calls it representative of the athletic instincts of a state's citizens.

Does anybody out there really think jousting's better than

bowling?

In jousting, you can't get a pizza while the rest of the team is up. There are no pinball machines to play while you wait for a game of jousting. You can't tell yourself, "I'm standing here just like Ralph Kramden used to."

And so we now have the owners of duckpin centers across this state -- about 50 owners, at last count, who in themselves probably outnumber the total number of jousters around here -- and they've mounted a campaign to rewrite the law books and make duckpin bowling the official state sport.

They've hired a public relations firm, which is putting Toots Barger out front to shout bowling's praises. They've started a petition drive. They intend to lobby legislators in Annapolis to come to their collective senses (if such a thing is imaginable).

For the record, let's give the legislators some clear-cut reasons why Bowling is Better Than Jousting:

* Unlike jousting, it's a family sport. How often, on a Friday night, do you get the family together, put on some armor, and mount a horse?

* In bowling, you get to do those gyrations with your body.

* You don't have to fall off a horse when you lose.

* Bowling balls don't snort and drool (although some bowling team captains do).

* Balls and shoes travel more easily than stallions.

* You can roll up your cigarettes in your sleeve.

* You don't have to suit up, except for a shiny shirt with "Pinky" written over the pocket.

* It's easier to spell than jousting.

Admittedly, the public dispute over this is wider than a 7-10 split. Certain rural legislators, unaware that the sport was invented at the old Diamond Alleys on Howard Street, and probably nurturing some anti-Baltimore bias, and probably uncaring that thousands of families use bowling to bond, have vowed to fight any change from jousting.

Let's give them their due. Jousting, named the state sport in 1962, does have some advantages, to wit:

* You don't have to wait for a lane.

* Your horse gets to dress up.

* You never get your fingers caught in the ball-return.

* When you step over a foul line, a beeper doesn't go off.

* You don't have to remember how to keep score for a spare.

* You only have to do it at Renaissance festivals.

In her prime, Toots Barger won 13 national duckpin bowling titles. In those days, this newspaper sponsored an annual area-wide bowling tournament, with the final day's games broadcast on local TV.

Always, it was thrilling to watch Toots heroically beat back all challengers (and to know that I'd played hooky in her very own establishment).

Now she is 73 years old and still bowls three times a week. You can see her at the lanes in Arbutus and in Dundalk.

Are there other sports played three times a week by 73-year-old women? Well, maybe, but they aren't called jousting.

Naturally, some will say that neither duckpin bowling nor jousting should be the state sport. After all, such a distinction should be based not only on athletics but on some idiosyncratic aspects of the local character.

Thus, legislators may want to consider these longtime local athletic favorites:

* Crushing beer cans against your forehead (doesn't quite have jousting's dignity, but what it lacks in formality it makes up for in the pride of a job well done.)

* Swiping hubcaps -- from moving cars.

* Betting on Sam Culotta's political chances.

* Searching for bookmobiles.

* Capturing people who read and forcing them to occupy the benches marked "The City That Reads."

K? Any way you knock 'em down, duckpin bowling wins in a roll.

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