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Getting into the swing of things

The art of swing bowling has remained a well-kept secret: there doesn’t seem to be a manual and you can’t find it in a YouTube video tutorial. Local organizers aren’t even sure when the league was created but it has kept women participating since before the Second World War.

“That was what the ladies from St. Jacobs did; the men played baseball and hockey, the ladies had a summer of swing bowling. At one time there was a mixed league but gradually the men had enough sports to do and it just ended up being ladies,” said Dolores Strauss after a proud moment in a June 24 game.

Dolores Strauss, a swing bowler since the age of 14, demonstrates a St. Jacobs tradition after achieving her first perfect game on Monday. [elena maystruk / the observer]
Dolores Strauss, a swing bowler since the age of 14, demonstrates a St. Jacobs tradition after achieving her first perfect game on Monday. [elena maystruk / the observer]
Strauss was never a baseball player or a runner, but realized early on she could really swing a 10-pound ball. For more than 60 years she has been chasing that elusive perfect game and on Monday, the swing bowling veteran of St. Jacobs’ ladies league hit her mark every time, for the first time since her love for the game began at the age of 14.

While few people outside of the sport are familiar with swing bowling, St. Jacobs has a long history with the game. First played by the riverside beside a skating rink, the games later migrated to the village’s community centre on Parkside Drive, and like many ladies of her ilk St. Jacobs-born Strauss – a St. Clements resident for 58 years – has been adamant about preserving the tradition.

“Once I got married I moved out [to St. Clements], but I still kept my St. Jacobs roots. I just feel like I belong to St. Jacobs,” said Strauss a team captain and statistician.

The game is similar to 10-pin bowling: each player takes turns knocking down pins, set up in a triangular formation, in the span of ten frames. The 10-pound bowling ball, however, is suspended from a 50-foot cable, attached to a pole that stands about 20 feet in front of the pins. The object is to take position behind the pins and swing the ball out and around the pole in a horseshoe in such a way that the pins get knocked own once the ball swings back. In short, it’s really something you have to see, Strauss maintains.

And, after so many years of play, was she excited about her perfect score?

Strauss laughed as she recalled Monday night’s feat: “Of course! Having tried so long to have one, it is. It’s great … this was the first perfect game of my whole life! There are not a lot of perfect games. ”

There have been perfect games played in the past, however, she acknowledged of the sport’s long standing in the community. Despite the history, swing bowling could use an infusion of players, she added.

“We do need exposure, because our numbers are dwindling. I’m getting a little older: I’m 75 and I’m still swing bowling.”

The ladies play two games every Monday evening behind the community centre, but not many locals even know about the six teams that make up the league, president Lori Solomon notes. Years ago fresh players were easy to come by when swing bowling was one of the few sports available for women. Now, with so many options, it’s become harder to attract new ladies to the teams. For now, swing bowling remains a beloved game for the aficionados and St. Jacobs traditionalists.

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