HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)– Bowling league representatives are still reeling from the loss of AMF Parkway Lanes, which caught fire and burned to the ground early Saturday morning.
“We’ve just lost another center and it’s just hard. It’s very hard,” said Rhonda Swaim, manager of the Huntsville United States Bowling Congress Association.
She said it’s already tough to realize Plamor Lanes is closing its doors in a little more than a month. Now, it’s double the impact.
“Most bowlers are house-specific,” she explained. “So, they bowl at that [alley] only. Now, they’ve got to move to another house. So, the biggest fear is whether they continue bowling.”
And if they’re members, the concern is also whether or not they continue bowling with their league. For leagues, lack of interest in bowling is bad news.
“We’ll lose more people and that would impact the money for the association,” said Janice Mason, President of the Huntsville USBC.
That’s money leagues use to hold tournaments and provide various resources and programs to promote the sport in the community. Mason is very concerned about supporting young bowlers too. She fears a lack of places in the community to bowl will impact the league’s ability to foster their skills.
The other issue, Mason and Swaim explained, is where the leagues who have been or are soon to be displaced will go from here. AMF still has another location in Huntsville. But, do they have enough space for everyone looking for a home?
“I think it’ll take a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of cooperation between the houses we have left,” said Swaim.
She said AMF Pin Palace, and Redstone Arsenal’s lanes remain options, along with a nearby bowling center in Madison. But, it won’t be the same. Access is limited at Redstone Arsenal, and these leagues can be big enough that there may not be space for them all to play when they want to. These leagues that have been displaced will now have to funnel in and hope scheduling can get them in.
“I think it’ll take a lot of work,” said Swaim. “It’s going to take a lot of collaboration between the houses we have left.”
Mason said she’s especially sorry for the bowlers and Pro Shop owners whose equipment was destroyed in the fire.
“If their homeowners insurance won’t cover it, they’ll be paying for it out of pocket,” she said. “I’m here to tell you, bowling equipment is not cheap.”
The hope here, though, is the bowling community will survive this. Neither of these women believe the future of bowling in Huntsville is headed for the gutter. They stress that with a sport like this, it’s a strong community full of stronger friendships and a resilient love for the game.
“It’s important,” said Swaim.
Other, smaller groups are affected too.
The Apple Pie Gang is a group of special needs bowlers that has been going strong for the past 40 years, according to one of its organizers, Dana Thomas.
“I had contacted several of our bowlers to tell them we wouldn’t be bowling obviously,” she said as she stared at the remains of AMF Parkway Lanes. These lanes were home for the Apple Pie Gang, many of whom found comfort in bowling.
“They’re upset. Mainly because it’s a routine we’ve done for many, many years and it’s something they do every Saturday,” she said. “We found years ago when we started this that bowling is the one sport that someone of any disability, visually impaired, hearing impaired, etc, can do.”
Thomas said she’d seen the group’s members grow in confidence, and in bowling skill as they spent Saturday upon Saturday at the lanes.
“We had one bowler who was in a wheelchair and he refused to use a ramp,” she said. “But, he bowled. And he might get one pin through the whole game, but it was his pin and he had knocked it over himself.”
Like Swaim and Mason, Thomas is confident they will find another day and another way to play, though.
The cause of the AMF Parkway Lanes fire is still under investigation.