Smoking is permitted, but cigarettes are banned in lane areas. Prior to league play and private parties, group representatives offer prayer over the loudspeaker.
“We’ve lost a lot of business because we don’t have an open bar,” said Mike Strange, Jr., 26, who took over as manager last spring. “But we get a lot of business because we don’t have it. Alcoholics Anonymous has a party here once a year.”
Fellowship Lanes is governed by an eight-member board of directors, three of them from Kentucky Baptist churches.
Kentucky Baptists were also integral in forming the association. The non-profit organization raised the funds to buy its first alley in 1969 by charging members an extra 15 cents a game—for more than two decades.
Linda Hornback of Shively Heights Baptist Church said that in the 1960s the group discussed building on property owned by Long Run Baptist Association. Ultimately, members vetoed the idea.
“The uniqueness is no one individual has ever owned the alley,” said Hornback, a member of association-run leagues for 40 years. “It’s the bowlers. Anybody who comes in has a say so.”
Six years after the group bought its first alley, it was destroyed by fire, forcing a temporary relocation until they purchased Fellowship in 1976.
Nearly in the gutter
But decaying facilities and the absence of a full-time manager nearly cost the group its existence, according to Robert Kurtz, board chairman since 2002.
“We were in dire straits when I took over,” said Kurtz, who attends Morningside Baptist Church. “We were on the verge of losing the bowling alley because we couldn’t make our payments.”
The association consulted with an attorney. He helped them refinance their loan and half a dozen members each kicked in $1,000 to help pay off the old note, Kurtz said.
In addition, Kurtz said, conditions have improved under Strange, who quit his job at United Parcel Service to run the alley.
“Mike has done a great job,” Kurtz said. “We had a feeling that we needed someone in here who was younger to bring in younger bowlers. Friday and Saturday nights have been packed, and he’s got new game machines in.”
“It was barely functional when I got here,” said Strange, who started doing mechanical repairs in November 2002. “Fourteen lanes were broke down, and there was no arcade and only one video game. And it was broken.”
Today, all 20 alleys are functional, along with a game room that has three pool tables, air hockey table and six video games; vending machines and refreshment service.
The lanes have automatic pinsetters, but bowlers keep their own scores, a feature that Strange said many bowlers appreciate.
Automatic scorekeeping is prevalent elsewhere but it can damage team unity, he explained, because players no longer gather around the scorekeeper.
Price is another attraction. Games are just 99 cents on Sunday and Monday and $1.50 the rest of the week, except Wednesdays, when the alley is closed.
League play ranges from $8 to $8.50 for three games, compared to $12 or more in other places, Strange said.
Groups can also rent the entire facility for parties for $250 for three hours.
Still, ask bowlers why they like Fellowship Lanes and the typical answer is, “Atmosphere.”
Board secretary Gladys Minton bowled elsewhere for 15 years but tired of the foul language and drinking. A member of Peace Chapel General Baptist Church, she called Fellowship a second church home.
Minton said visiting youth groups often hold services prior to bowling and one time seven teens accepted Christ as Savior during a post-bowling devotional.
“If we get a chance to talk to someone about the Lord, we do,” said Minton, noting that leagues are open to non-church members. “If people are having problems, we talk to them about that.”
Fifteen-year Baptist Bowling Association veteran Jerry Carter has noticed the difference on occasional visits to other establishments.
“This is a more friendly situation,” Carter said. “Other lanes have a more dog-eat-dog attitude.”
Bruce Holmes has been coming to Fellowship for five years, soon after he accepted Jesus as his personal Savior.
An electrician, he likes associating with people of all ages and the calm feeling he has when he leaves.
“I bowled at other alleys and bowled for money, beer and everything else,” Holmes said. “I’d go home so mad I was ready to throw my ball over the Ohio River Bridge. I just come here and bowl and have a good time.”
Board member Michele Williams, who attends Walnut Street Baptist Church, wants to see more churches get involved in league play.
“Anybody who comes here knows it’s Christ-centered,” Williams said. “But a lot of people don’t know we’re here. We don’t have the money to advertise and get the big shiny lights.”
Even if it did, the group would be bucking a downward trend. While no figures are available, its number of participants has dwindled for the past 25 years.
The decrease reflects national trends. Participation in sanctioned men’s, women’s and youth leagues declined from 9 million during 1979-80 to 3.2 million for the current season.
Mark Miller, communications officer with National Bowling Headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis., attributes the drop to dramatic shifts in society, including more working couples and busy schedules.
“People never thought of committing to something once or twice a week,” Miller said. “But we live in a much different society than 25 years ago. It’s the times we live in; people lead busy lives. They have a lot of choices with how they use their time.”
Still, Fellowship’s manger says, don’t discount the possibility of a revival.
“This place can make a comeback,” Strange said. “If you care enough, you can make anything work. It will take us, the board, the public and God. We’re all going to have to do it together.”
Western Recorder issue date: Feb. 10, 2004