Wyoming Civic Center is located on the corner of Springfield Pike and Worthington Avenue. The building is an ideal place for wedding receptions and various other social events.
But a stroll down to the basement reveals a candlepin bowling alley, a true Midwest rarity.
At first glance it appears to be a regular bowling alley, but if you look around you will be struck by its unique features.
The balls are smaller and lighter. The pens are taller and narrower than their contemporary counterparts. Pens and a paper score card are provided for each lane; Electronics don’t help with language leading points.
Steve Sharrock discovered the alley when his family moved to Wyoming at the age of 8. He first met at a birthday party and has been involved in leagues ever since. Like many others who have played the game, the eccentricity keeps him coming back.
“I just love it. It’s a nice game. I love games and this is a really nice rare game,” said Sharrock.
Sharrock played baseball in high school and found that bowling kept his arm loose during the winter. Although he played baseball at the University of South Florida, he found his way back to Wyoming and the bowling alley. He now serves as commissioner for the League of Wintermen.
The Candlepin variant may be unfamiliar to most, but give yourself an hour or two to experience the game and you’ll find that this rare find is for you.
“It’s just something very unique. I think people like that they score with pencil and paper. There are no electronics.
Pospisil has been working there since 2014. Staying at the bowling alley has taught her the unique aspects of the game.
What is candlepin bowling?
Candlepin bowling originated in Wooster, Massachusetts in the 1880s. Justin White is credited with inventing the sport, and John J. Monsey helped regulate the game and popularize it across the state. The International Candlepin Bowling Association was founded in 1986. Today, the game is most popular in its founding state of Massachusetts, as well as in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Candlepin and 10-pin are similar in shape but differ in technical aspects. The pens are taller, slimmer, lighter and further apart. The balls are smaller and weigh the same as the pins (about two and a half pounds). Because of the disparity, bowlers have three tries to knock down all 10 pins instead of two.
Oil is sprayed onto the lanes but is intended to protect the ground rather than elicit curvature from the ball. When pins are knocked over, they are not swept off the track, but can be used to knock over remaining pins.
Players are allowed to wear bowling shoes, but have the option to wear socks.
“People can wear bowling shoes if they have them. Most people don’t do that, so we just encourage them to wear socks,” Pospisil said.
The highest score ever achieved was 254 in 1984 and 2011, a testament to the difficulty of the game. The game itself is a physics lesson, ideal for a school trip. While counting points is a simple addition, it is a lesson in math.
Between candlepin and standard 10-pin bowling, there’s a variation known as duckpin, which is growing in popularity thanks to local spots like Pins Mechanical Co. and Hoppin’ Vines. Duckpin is largely similar to candlepin. The only exceptions are that the ball is slightly larger and heavier and the pins are miniature versions of those used in the 10 pin.
Many refer to candlepin as “real bowling” as opposed to 10-pin. Although less popular with the general populace, it requires more skill to knock down the pins, even with another throw. Sharrock estimates that half of the bowlers in the current league have a background in 10-pin bowling. Despite the differences, the skills translate.
How Candlepin Bowling Came to Ohio
In the case of Wyoming, there are conflicting accounts of the alley’s conception. The site of today’s Civic Center was also the site of the previous two buildings, referred to as the “Pleasure Halls”. The first was built in 1885 and destroyed in a fire in 1907. The second hall suffered a similar fate in 1948, leading to the construction of the current building in 1949.
The earliest date associated with the alley is a plaque recognizing Smith Allen Coffing’s high score of 170 in January 1922. Pin boys used to work the lanes for 10 cents an hour until mechanical pinsetters were installed in 1960. The alley has been renovated several times. The last dates from 2017. The wooden floorboards have been replaced and a full-length mural has been installed to commemorate the space.
Wyoming Public Works staff maintain the alley and ensure everything runs smoothly during events.
Leagues have always been popular with residents, from those barely old enough to sling the ball down the lane to older adults who have been playing for decades. However, the alley is most popular with the younger population. Reservation options on the Civic Center website include only the bowling alley and the lane for a children’s birthday party.
“The two-hour children’s birthday party is definitely popular. It’s generally geared towards kids under the age of 12, but usually adults will play just as well here,” Pospisil said.
The center even hosted a week-long mini camp for children during the summer. For a few hours a day, the kids would show up to play board games, watch movies, and play bowls. The camp eventually switched to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday format as it was becoming difficult to keep children entertained with the same activities. The camp was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic and has not returned since.
In the past, there were open bowling nights, sometimes held in conjunction with school open days. Parents could drop off their children at school and experience a different kind of open day at the bowling alley. But like the minicamp, these events have not returned since the pandemic began.
While Sharrock was at school, the bowling alley was always there, even when the rest of town was quiet, ready for fun times and competitions between chums.
“You used to be able to count on bowling to happen when nothing else was happening,” Sharrock said.
Other popular events include graduation ceremonies and corporate events. The adjacent Corral Room has a capacity of 60 people and helps to accommodate such events.
When Pospisil transitioned into her current role, mostly Wyoming residents reserved the alley. But that has changed as more non-residents are discovering the alley and its history.
“The news got around and spread more and more. I’d say it’s probably a 60-40 split. Sixty (percent) residents and 40 (percent) non-residents,” Pospisil said.
Currently, the lane is primarily used by reservations and a winter men’s league. Pospisil said there have been inquiries about additional leagues and the center is open to accepting additional groups.
Sharrock’s League is held on Thursday nights during the fall and spring. Six teams of five players compete each week. There are two 13 week sessions consisting of a double round robin, two “positions” weeks and a closing party.
Serving as commissioner of the league doesn’t give Sharrock a competitive advantage, but he always finds himself at or near the top of the standings.
“I’ve never had the highest average, but my team wins a lot,” said Sharrock.
For more information and inquiries about the bowling alley, visit the Civic Center’s website or call (513) 821-5423.