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89-year-old bowler has time to spare

February 22, 1999

Old BowlerBy ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




John Forrest stood poised at the edge of an alley that was built 30 years after he began to bowl.

Just as he's done since 1927, Forrest took two steps, threw his right arm back, and flung the small, hard rubber ball toward the waiting pyramid of pins.

Spare.

Forrest, 89, of Greenbrier, bowls once a week with the Tuesday Night Handicappers, a duckpin team that's been bowling together for 21 years, said President Ray Oberholzer.

Forrest is the most experienced member of the team, which meets at Turner's Dual Lanes in Hagerstown.

"Way to go, John!," said teammate Pat Carpenter. Other team members patted Forrest on the back as he passed.

"We don't think much of him here," said a smiling Carpenter.

And Forrest doesn't think much of the game.

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"It's something he's always done," said Forrest's daughter, Barbara Reeder, of Hagerstown. Reeder and her family joined her father's teammates at the alley Feb. 2 to celebrate his birthday.

"This league's been really good to him," she said.

The Tuesday Night Handicappers is one in a line of leagues with which Forrest has been a part. It all started during a lunch break in 1927.

The young Forrest was an avid baseball player, but had never before attempted to strike a pyramid formation of short wooden pins with a five-inch round rubber ball.

Until a J.C. Roulette knitting mill co-worker invited him to the second floor of an old bus franchise, where the owner had installed 20 alleys.

After an hour, Forrest said he was hooked. He's still hooked, though he said the game has changed in the 72 years he's been bowling.

Pin-boys used to set up "rubber band" pins, he said. The two-inch wide strip of rubber in the middle of each wooden pin added an inch to the diameter, making the pins easier to knock down, Forrest said.

He said his highest score with rubber band pins was 286 out of 300.

Forrest said he even saw a couple perfect games with rubber band pins.

Those pins were replaced by solid maple pins in 1935, said Joe Bitner, who managed Turner's Dual Lanes in Hagerstown from 1958 to 1986. Those pins were covered with plastic in the 1960s, and solid plastic pins are now used, he said.

"The change in pins made a big difference," Forrest said. "You really had to adjust your bowling to hit them."

He said he has never seen a perfect game with the newer, plastic duckpins.

One thing that hasn't changed is the game's greatest challenge, Forrest said.

"You still need to make your spare breaks, and try to get strikes," he said.

Does he have any tricks?

"Aim for the middle," Forrest said.

He said he used to bowl three to four times a week, but arthritis has affected his grip on the ball. Without the grip, Forrest said he can no longer throw with a hook.

He said his average has dropped from 132 to 100.

"I used to be erratic every now and then," Forrest said. "I'm erratic all the time, now."

But he can still roll a strike, and get a spare from a split.

"A friend told me once, 'As long as you can pick up that ball and throw it down the alley, keep bowling. It'll keep you young,'" Forrest said. "Something's kept me here this long."

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