Playing cards, poker chips, beaded necklaces, Christmas gifts, cocktails and chocolates littered the bowling tables at Mountain Sun Lanes again this week where women decked out in sporty bowling jerseys assembled for the Wednesday Night Ladies League in Bellevue.
The seven team match-up happens every week from Labor Day until May at the bowling alley tucked behind the Shell service station that until recently was a Texaco pit stop at the south end of town.
"Nine months, it's a lot of bowing," said Kelly Cole, who plays for Bradley Construction. "You can have a baby in that time and it's happened."
This year the other six team sponsors are Power Engineers, Arborcare, Central Idaho Construction, Silver Creek Excavation, Urbany Construction, Anderson Asphalt, Momentum real Estate and The Silver Dollar Bar.
"We take Thanksgiving, New Years and Christmas off and we finish just before school gets out," said Deena Seig, a member of the Power team, which used to be sponsored by TLC Daycare. "I've played for seven years. We bowl against each of the other teams two to three times through the year."
All the players are card-carrying members of the Women's International Bowling Congress and many have traveled over the years to state and national competitions.
At $15 for a membership card and $13.25 an hour for a lane, it's an affordable hobby. However, it's not all fun and games. For some women competitive bowling has become a lifelong endeavor and a considerable investment.
Laurie Wolfley, who also bowls on the Bradley Construction team, holds the only 700 series scratch game in the 25 year existence of Mountain Sun Lanes with a three game score of 709.
"It's the first in this whole house," she said. Score boards on the wall that list the top bowlers with their scores and averages proves the point.
Wolfley, like her teammate, Cole, started when she was a young girl. Cole was inspired by her Grandmother, Wolfley by her mother.
"I started in second grade in Twin Falls," Wolfley said, exposing her passion for the game. She is the secretary for two leagues and the president of the Wood River Valley Women's Bowling Association. Wolfley is so strong she even competes in men's leagues. Including time spent with a Magic Valley traveling team, Wolfley bowls four to five nights a week.
The Bellevue bowling alley hosts league play for men on Tuesday nights, women on Wednesdays, a mixed league on Thursdays and a senior and mixed match-up on Tuesday afternoons.
"It's busier in the winter," said Lisa Haman, who manages the desk on league nights, making sure the state of the art computerized and televised scoring system and ball returns are running smoothly and that the lanes are clean. "In fact, in summer we're only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday night."
Marta Thompson, the league secretary has been playing for 25 years, 16 in the Wood River Valley.
"We're in our 14th week. We have a 500, a 600 and a Gutter Gussie club," Thompson said. "It's an oxymoron."
Talking about the commitment women make to the sport, Karla Williams, the bowling association secretary said there is very little absenteeism. Most women have their own bowling shoes and all have their names embroidered on their jerseys. Some women even have custom bowling balls.
"It kind of gets in your blood," Williams said.
In fact, at times members of the Castle family have represented three generations in the league.
"I started on the Sun Valley bowling lanes," said Ramona Castle, who has been bowling since 1959. She said her granddaughter, who played last year is taking some time off for other activities, but her daughter Debbie Castle has been playing for 26 years, including travel to state and national tournaments, when they are scheduled in cities within driving distance like Reno, Nev.
Some of the women have even brought home cash winnings for strong performances in singles, doubles or team competition.
Silver Creek team member Tina Murphy who won first place in Division 2 at the state championships in Pocatello in 2002 gave an introduction to custom bowing balls.
"I use a right hand finger tip reactive ball with top weight," Murphy said.
With the rotation of her particular throw the top weight causes the ball to hook in a way she can predict. Other things to consider are the oils on the surface of the lane and whether it is wood or synthetic, she added. "Wood lanes react twice as much as synthetic lanes."
Bowling technique is complex. Cole said she is a right-hander who has drilled finger holes in a left hander ball.
"Some of us are screwballs," she said.
There is a great deal of technical jargon and discussion about the oil levels and air temperature on "Wednesday nights. Despite the loose atmosphere, it is competitive.
"Get me a drink and I'm good to go," an anonymous voice chimed in.
In addition to the league night there is a yearly city tournament where players bowl twice on two teams.
"There is prize money and gifts," Cole said. "It's for bragging rights."
"I've gotta have my name at the top of the board," Wolfley said, hinting between sets that she might try to go pro. "I love it. I like to get new people out. We welcome new bowlers to the area. It's fun camaraderie between friends."
It is also about a break from the grindstone, said Bellevue resident Beth Callister. And, it's a night out away from the boys.
"It's one big sisterhood, ladies night out," Cole said.
As the Hunk playing cards came out, I knew it was time to make my exit. On the way out I bumped into Greg Urbany, a bowler's spouse and a team sponsor. He was carrying a carton of eggs and on his way home after checking in on his team.
"I'm like George Steinbrenner. I'm an owner," Urbany said, grinning and checking in to gain some points with his wife. "I'm headed out the door. It gives me a night where I can watch football, play poker, smoke cigars, play my music loud ... I can get into my jammies and do what I want."