Bowling alleys welcome the good, the bad, and the recreational
A popular destination in Great Barrington, the Cove is one of only a handful of bowling venues in the Berkshires.
On a bright Thursday afternoon, you’d expect people to be lining up at the trailheads or casting a few lines into cold creeks. But not everyone is outside taking advantage of the brief respite from rain.
At the Cove Bowling and Entertainment in Great Barrington, de facto manager Thomas Hankey Jr. is indoors by choice, overseeing the lanes and bright carpeting he has known for most of his 18 years. His parents, Tom Sr. and Sheila, own the Cove (although a “For Sale” sign sits roadside outside the business) and have been running the place for 13 years. Hankey Jr. grew up at the lanes, perfecting his bowling game, and winning the 2017 Teen Masters Grand Champion. Now, he’s off to Webber International University in Florida, where, thanks to his bowling accolades, he has earned thousands of dollars in scholarships.
“I started bowling when I was two,” says Hankey Jr., “and it’s something I still love to do despite the competitive path I’ve taken. It’s a great sport.”
“Families can come to bowl as families,” adds mom. “It’s one of the last pastimes that people can enjoy together.”
Sheila is working with her son, having just finished up bowling camp with a group of kids from a local summer camp. In fact, the Cove is a pretty busy place, even during so-called off season. Summer visitors find their way to the lanes on rainy days. Locals, too. And once leagues and clubs start up in the fall and go deep into winter, most Berkshire bowling alleys are hopping. Competitive bowlers, skiers seeking a warmer evening inside, and young people come looking for something to do, like “Cosmic Bowling,” which the Cove offers after hours.
“This is a completely different environment from most things,” says Hankey Jr. “It’s like stepping back into the past. It’s something that everyone can do.”
There are only five bowling alleys in the Berkshires, and each has its own flair, including candlepin bowling in Pittsfield and disco-themed bowling after 5 p.m. at Greylock Bowl & Golf in North Adams. Leagues from every corner of the population—seniors, women, men, co-ed, kids, corporate—meet up during the week to practice and compete and socialize in these noisy, lacquered arenas.
Kathleen Van Orman found league bowling after she retired from teaching seven years ago—or bowling found her.
“I’m still pretty new to the sport,” Van Orman says. “A friend asked me to sub for someone in the senior league at the Cove. People are just so welcoming, and I’m definitely a youngster on the team. I’ve bowled with former students, parents of students. It’s a sport that flows through the generations.”
Van Orman now finds herself bowling and practicing at least two to three times a week. She has attended a few clinics with visiting pro bowlers to improve her game, and she even catches professional bowling on ESPN. All of this is a far cry from throwing bumper balls as a child on rainy days.
“One can still bowl well despite declining mobility and aging. And the social element—there is a lot of chitchatting,” says Van Orman. “I never knew this other world existed.”
Accessibility is the most compelling draw for most people, especially students who participate in the area’s high-school club bowling during the September-April season. At the inception of club bowling, participation was low. In recent years, however, the numbers have swelled. (Lee has 35 JV and Varsity bowlers.) There are nearly a dozen clubs representing schools across the county. On any given Friday, close to 200 students from local high schools play the lanes of local bowling alleys, some competing for points, others just happy to be out with their peers being a part of something. And while some will never be serious bowlers like Hankey Jr., all have benefited from the experience, especially on the social end of things. Matt Fillio, a longtime teacher at Lee High School, has been the regional commissioner for the county’s high-school bowling club for more than a decade. According to him, bowling clubs have filled a void in the high-school team culture and have brought together unlikely friends, thanks to the, ahem, level playing field inherent in bowling.
“It really took off, much better than I expected,” says Fillio, himself a veteran bowler and the son of a candlepin-league aficionado. “For kids who might not be the most athletic, it’s something that they can do that, they are still part of a team. Nobody sits out, and it’s a game that’s always friendly.
“We’ve got a lot of big guys who have been playing football for their entire high-school career and 100-pound middle-schoolers all high-fiving each other. It’s a sport that you can do, really, for the rest of your life.”
Bowling venues in the Berkshires
The Cove Bowling & Entertainment
109 Stockbridge Rd., Great Barrington, 413-528-1220, covelanes.com
Imperial Bowl, Inc.
555 Dalton Ave., Pittsfield, 413-443-4453, bowlimperial.com
495 Dalton Ave., Pittsfield, 413-499-0733, kensbowl.com
Greylock Bowl & Golf
41 Roberts Dr., North Adams, 413-663-3761, greylockbowl.com
219 Northside Dr., Bennington, Vermont, 802-447-7100, benningtonlanes.com