Bowling - it's absolutely cosmic

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Berkshire County bowling alleys have long been haunts for devoted league members, the types who can recite their scores in a heartbeat and care for their personal bowling balls like children. But many local lanes have been aiming to appeal to people who may not know a strike from a spare.

"We have our staple people coming in, but we're also looking at getting the other side of it — the night out-ers," Greylock Bowl & Golf manager Rick Moon said on a recent Thursday night.

Moon, who has been associated with the alley for 49 years, said bowling interest has decreased in North Adams and Berkshire County since Sprague Electric and other companies left the area.

"I don't think it's as big," the former professional bowler said.

Essentially, Greylock feels it needs to offer a broader entertainment experience to survive in this climate, attracting people with a variety of different interests. In addition to its 30 lanes, the North Adams institution hosts Mingo's Sports Bar & Grill, which is currently undergoing renovations, and features golf simulators and arcade games. Moon, who coached McCann Technical School to a state championship this past year, said the alley will also soon debut a "Women, Wine and Bowling" league, in which participants get free glasses of wine and the social experience of joining a league without a 30-plus-week commitment (members will be able to attend when they please).

"You have to bring in the ones who are not total committed bowlers," Moon said.

Rowdy groups can rankle the league members sometimes, he said. He recalled one night when a Williams College sports team occupied eight lanes. They were having a "great time," Moon said, when a woman from one of the leagues complained to the manager about the squad's noise level.

Elaine Hewitt of Clarksburg has bowled for more than 45 years and is part of a Wednesday night league at Greylock, but the influx of partiers doesn't bother her. "I just ignore them," she said following some practice games on a Thursday night.

A greater potential distraction for serious Greylock bowlers is "rock 'n' roll" bowling on Saturday nights. Beginning at 8, the alley acquires the feel of a nightclub, with blaring music, disco lighting and glow-in-the-dark lanes. These nights are often quite popular at Greylock, with people coming and going from Mingo's.

The North Adams alley isn't the only Berkshire County bowling establishment to promote a festive atmosphere. At Cove Bowling and Entertainment in Great Barrington, "cosmic" bowling starts a 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Along with the high-energy tunes and strobe lighting, four projection screens drop down between lanes, displaying a music video while bowlers knock down pins around them. Additionally, a bar is located at the front of the building. Many of its patrons on a recent Friday night never made it to the lanes.

Phil Bonhotel of Sharon, Conn., was practicing in one of the alley's 24 lanes minutes before the cosmic night was set to begin. A longtime bowler, Bonhotel was recovering from ankle and knee replacements. The disco lighting didn't disturb him. "It's pretty neat," he said.

At Ken's Bowl in Pittsfield earlier that night, which sends its league bowlers to the right when they walk in and its amateurs to the left, regular Dick Hall wasn't so amused.

"It drives me nuts," he said just before the alley began its own cosmic bowling night. The dimmed lights combined with periodic flashes in his lane distract him. "I can't see where I'm throwing the ball," he said.

Hall bowls in a Monday night league and said his average score is 171. He admitted that the alley's entertainment strategy appeared to be working. "I guess it's attracting people," he said.

To his left, a group of Taconic High School students and graduates were enjoying a self-professed "guys' night." Though they had been to Ken's in the past, they didn't know about the cosmic bowling. When the lights were turned off and the ball returns started to beam, the group was impressed. "I'm glad they're doing this," Justyn Santiago said.

Still, the group stressed that it was an opportunity to hang out with friends more than anything else. "It's just fun getting together with people," said Zach Gage.

Despite all of the bells and whistles, Moon believes it's this social aspect, combined with the bowling, that brings people back to Greylock and other alleys.

"It doesn't matter who's throwing," Moon said, "you still want to knock 'em down."


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