Varsity bowlers find home at Commodore

The satisfying clack of a bowling ball knocking pins was followed by a chorus of cheers Wednesday afternoon when Doris Gage threw a strike.

The bespectacled bowler danced back to her friends on Team 50% for a round of high-fives.

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Teammate Marion Hartley complained that having her photo snapped while bowling was throwing her off her game, but moments later she felled all five pins.

“I’m just showing that fat ladies can get strikes, too,” she quipped while hitching up her pants.

Team 50%, whose members have bowled together for three years, are  part of hundreds of dispossessed bowlers who moved from Varsity Ridge Bowl to the Commodore Lanes and Billiards downtown in September after Varsity Ridge was bulldozed.

They are clear about where they’d rather bowl and they want the Ridge back. “We want to be bowling at home,” said Hartley.

But they also appreciate the efforts made to accommodate them.

“The people down here have been really good to us,” said 50% member Pat McIntyre. “Ken and Judy have done a ton of work to get this all set up for us. Bowling here is better than not bowling.”

The Golden Age and nighttime leagues from 15th and Arbutus relocated to Granville Street in September along with Varsity Ridge’s owners Ken and Judy Hayden, who volunteer supporting the leagues five days a week.

“We’re kind of like the candy stripers of bowling,” Ken Hayden said.

He says 375 of 500 bowlers from Varsity relocated. Those that didn’t shift seemed to be scared off by parking conditions and panhandlers downtown.

“To go from all what we did to nothing just would have been devastating,” said Hayden, who turned 70 on Christmas Day. “We’ve been able to carry on and support the leagues and see the people we’ve known for years.”

The washrooms at the 1928 Commodore building were nasty before the new bowlers rolled in and the noise level off-putting, so the owners of the Commodore Lanes paid for upgrades, yanking three toilets out of the Varsity Ridge and installing them at the Commodore Lanes to save money.

“They are my brother and sister,” said Commodore Lanes co-owner Young Kwon of the Haydens, who have no financial interest in the business. “If I do not meet them, this is a very difficult area, but he brought the bowling league[s] here and he had the idea about the renovation, how to improve.”

Commodore Lanes hired two of Hayden’s employees. Hayden is continuing to raise money for the Variety Club — the telethon is this weekend — and the CKNW Orphans’ Fund league now bowls at the Commodore Lanes.

Almost all of the Special Olympics bowlers relocated to Grandview Lanes on Commercial Drive but only eight of the 70 bowlers in the youth league relocated.

“That’s the sad part,” Hayden said. “All those kids don’t bowl anymore because it’s too far away or too inconvenient.”

Linda Adams, also on the 50% team, noted Commodore Lanes isn’t accessible to people who can’t handle stairs. She and McIntyre believe a bowling alley should be incorporated into the redevelopment of Oakridge Centre. Adams said so at an open house and McIntyre phoned the mayor and the parks board, who she says told her there was no money for such a venture.

Adams is happy the Golden Ages league, for those aged 55 and older, didn’t roll into the gutter.    

“It’s not just the bowling, it’s the camaraderie,” she said.

As for the origin of the team’s name, McIntyre explained where it came from.

“We have two Pats, two of us have had cancer, two of us are married,” she said. “So 50 per cent of everything.”

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