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Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2018
Bowling them over in Sudbury
by Randy Pascal

A five hour drive, followed by three flights totaling some 21 hours or so of travel time was all that it took to bring Becky Aylward from her home in Hay River (Northwest Territories) to Sudbury earlier this week – and she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Aylward is one of 225 adult bowlers from across the country that have seen fit to join the locals at Plaza Bowl and Whitewater Lanes this week, site of the 2017 Canadian Open 5 Pin Bowling Championship.

This trek marks her third straight trip to nationals, but first time that she is representing the NWT in the ladies singles competition. “I’m so nervous, I’m sweating,” noted Aylward, preparing for her first round of games on Wednesday evening at Plaza.

“If you’re doing poorly on a team, they can substitute you in. In singles, there’s no stopping. If I’m bowling horribly, I still have to bowl my seven games.” If the bowler with 12 years experience sounds a little more self-conscious than most, she does so with the knowledge that qualifying for nationals out of the Territories isn’t quite the equivalent of making your way here from other hotbeds of bowling in the country.

Hay River has one bowling alley with six lanes to service a total population of roughly 3500 people. “We run three league nights in Hay River, and by comparison, Yellowknife only has one league night,” she explained. “I thought it would really pick up this year because our arena was being renovated, but it really didn’t.” The entire NWT delegation features a grand total of eight bowlers, split almost evenly between the two afore-mentioned communities.

Entering play with the lowest average of any of the women’s singles competitors, Aylward is hopeful of making the best of her first ever visit to Sudbury. “I heard it was going to look a little like Yellowknife, and I would have to agree, mostly with the rocks and the Canadian Shield,” she said.

“It’s similar, and the people have been super friendly.” Seeing as though she left behind a high temperature of 32 degrees Celsius in Hay River earlier this week, Northern Ontario hospitality better try to compensate for the crappy weather we are enduring.

Of course, the steady stream of rain fall likely has Newfoundland veteran Bob Osborne feeling completely in his element. With more than forty years of bowling experience behind him, the 57 year old typically friendly maritimer has attended a whopping 61 different national bowling tournaments over the years.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be away lots,” he smiled. In fact, this marks his third stop in Sudbury with the sport that he lives almost 24/7, his second as a member of the men’s team, and once as a mixed team player.

Needless to say, he would provide a wonderful point of reference for the likes of Aylward and other relative newbies. “We won our first three today, and then lost the next three, but we’re only a couple of points out of first, so overall, we’ve had a good day,” noted Osborne.

“You ride the hot streak and hope that you can last through it, but you will hit those spurts where teams are hot against you, you end up getting a few beatings and you have to work your way back.” Clearly, he has seen it all, capturing gold on a few different occasions, while settling for silver or bronze in other years.

His most special tournament, however, was right on the tip of his tongue. A bit of background – not only is Osborne an owner of several alleys in St John’s, but two of them are emblazoned as Plaza Bowl and Holiday Lanes, leaving him feeling right at home in the Nickel City, as long-time residents can fully appreciate.

“I won gold at Holiday Lanes in St John’s four to five years ago,” Osborne recalled. “People were saying from what they recollect that it was the first time ever that an owner had ever won a gold medal on his own bowling alley.”

Like most divisions, the men’s teams taking part will be competing at both local facilities, forcing the bowlers to make on the spot adjustments as they move from the synthetic surface that graces the Plaza lanes over to the more traditional wooden variety of Whitewater in Azilda.

“On the wood lanes, the ball will break more,” he said. “On synthetic, the ball will run straighter, at least in general. Some of the players like the wood more, because they can get the ball to snap more, sort of like throwing ten pin.”

With another 12 games on the schedule before the ladder playoffs take place on Saturday, Osborne knows all too well the secret of success at nationals. “If we stay steady and focused and get a few breaks, we’ll be in the mix,” he said.

“There’s a lot of great bowlers on all of these other teams, so you have to push them to hopefully give you an opening so that you can capitalize.” For her part, Canadian 5 Pin Bowlers’ Association Executive Director Sheila Carr suggested that team chemistry should not be overlooked.

Not only has Carr served as a long-time staff member for the group, she can also draw on the experience of her playing days, having competed as a player the last time nationals were hosted in Sudbury roughly a decade ago.

“They need to be able to bowl together and support each other, as a team,” said Carr. “As an individual, I think that it’s focus more than anything else. Talent definitely has a place, but if you’re in a zone, there’s not too often that you can get pushed out of that zone when you’re at an event like this.”

And like so many who have long loved the sport of bowling, Carr and her compatriots search to find ways to ensure that her passion will continue to enjoy some popularity in an ever-expanding athletic market place.

“There’s so many things for people to do these days,” she said. “We’re constantly trying to market the game and get people involved, but it’s very difficult when there are so many options out there."

The 2017 Canadian Open Nationals are being co-chaired by Kevin Freeland and Pat Hauser, with Eric Lemieux, Ziggy Zaldiner, Jerome Lesny, Cindy Remmersaal, Kelly McNamara, Brenda Lesny, Marlene Hauser, Lise Anderson and Yvette MacLellan all providing valuable input as members of the organizing committee.

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