Duckpin enthusiasts make their pitch SHALL WE JOUST . . . OR BOWL?

February 06, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Imagine duckpin bowling as the state sport! It's so, well, "mundane," said the horsewoman and jousting fan.

Imagine keeping jousting as the state sport, countered the bowlers. Jousting is the sport of the landed gentry, but duckpin bowling is the sport of The People.

And there it was -- the debate over whether duckpin bowling should replace jousting as Maryland's official sport -- laid bare, albeit in gentlemanly terms, before a House of Delegates committee yesterday.

It was The People vs. The Elite, city vs. country, folks in rented shoes at bowling lanes vs. costumed knights atop horses at jousting tournaments.

This is not the first time the jousters have defended their sport from would-be usurpers. This year they're parrying thrusts from two official-sport wannabees: duckpin bowling and lacrosse.

So yesterday the jousters came to Annapolis prepared. Knights wore plumed helmets and belted tunics. Young, fair-haired girls and women wore flowing robes of purple and pink. They spoke of the honor and beauty of riding atop horses and collecting rings with a lance, which is what jousters have done since they stopped trying to bash each other a half a millennium ago.

The bowlers also came prepared. They brought a duckpin, and they brought Toots Barger, a 73-year-old Baltimore legend.

Elizabeth Barger of Pasadena was national duckpin bowling champion 13 times and Maryland champion 27 times. Her name is in the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame.

A small, spry woman who looks younger than her years, Mrs. Barger is bowling's chief emissary to the legislature.

"I grew up watching you on television," remarked Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, the chairwoman of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, as Mrs. Barger prepared to testify.

Bowling helps keep people young, Mrs. Barger said. Anyone from two to 102 can just walk right into a bowling alley, rent shoes and play.

At least a quarter million Marylanders do just that, she said.

"You're never too old and you don't have to have any equipment, whereas with jousting, you have to have a horse," Mrs. Barger said in an interview.

Duckpin bowling, she points out, was invented right here, in Baltimore, almost a century ago.

She also recounted with pride her induction into the Sports Hall of Fame.

"With all those men in there, I was the only woman. There was another woman, a swimmer, but she was deceased, and I was still alive -- very much so."

When she was once asked what she thought of jousting, she replied, "I don't."

The jousters, however, have tradition on their side.

For generations, they've dressed up as knights and maids of Camelot and climbed atop horses to participate in tournaments.

Paul Bailey, a former state senator from St. Mary's County, told the legislators about the wholesomeness of jousting, making it sound like abalm for the frenzy of modern life. Jousting brings out "the spirit of love and friendship at church dinners, at things that are good," he said.

Others spoke of the importance of horse people who tend to their livestock and represent a proud and thriving Maryland industry.

Del. Tyras "Bunk" Athey, D-Anne Arundel, a lifelong jouster whose tournament name is "I will if I can," said he's tired of having to defend the noble sport every four or five years. "I don't hear anyone saying let's substitute the state dog [the Chesapeake Bay retriever] with the Rottweiler," he said.

The lacrosse players, by the way, will be visiting the House later ++ this session to lobby for their sport.

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