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Guest column: Luke Rosdahl offers a less dramatic perspective on house shots after Big Mike's polarizing piece

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2022 7:00 am
Luke Rosdahl. Contributed photo.

Big Mike (Weinert) of Sweep the Rack podcast fired up social media with his guest column offering "My beef with house shot leagues" at 11thFrame.com on Thursday. 

Luke Rosdahl, a Storm staffer whose ball reviews have made his YouTube page a popular page for people looking for Storm products reviews, was among the readers of Big Mike's piece.

And he wanted to offer his perspective on the topic.

As this website has always been open for guest columns that bring value to bowling topics of interest, and the legitimacy of house shot bowling definitely is such a topic, I agreed to run it when he asked.


Another perspective on house shots

By LUKE ROSDAHL

First of all, I have no beef, either with Big Mike, anything he wrote in his recent article OR house shot leagues.  While this is in response to or inspired by his article, it isn’t necessarily a counter argument or rebuttal, though it will likely contain more quotations and fewer uses of the word “fraudulent.”  To the contrary, I generally agree with him, and used to be as firmly entrenched in the same ideals.  However, I’ve also spent quite a bit of time on the industry side of things, and that results in frequent catch 22 situations when considering different opinions and ideas about how to “save” bowling and change it for the better, OR what led to the decline in the first place.  Being a “patch pirate” myself in some sense (amazing term by the way), I believe I have a solid understanding of both sides of the coin, which are of course still on the same coin.  

While I bowled a youth league for a couple years around the age of 11 or 12, I didn’t get into it until after high school in 1999.  I’m no physical specimen, so while other sports occupied my time and attention through my school years, there was no possibility of even participating, let alone competing in things like basketball or baseball beyond that.  At the time, YABA allowed ages up to 21, and when a friend needed a teammate for a Saturday morning league, I took the opportunity and was quickly hooked.  A couple years later as I graduated into adult leagues, I also took an opportunity to work at a local pro shop.  I had improved quickly, became known in the community, and was in the shop nearly every day of the week anyway.  As a result, I learned the recreational, competitive, and technical sides of the game all at the same time.  

I was fortunate to have also been exposed to sport bowling very early on, both before it was termed sport bowling and in its infancy.  Those near my age in the Kansas City area will remember the GMJBT (Greater Midwest Junior Bowler’s Tour) traveling tournaments run by Toby Contreras, which were the sole reason I fully exhausted my youth eligibility.  They were held in various locations in Kansas and Missouri, and despite only having a few short seasons to compete, I remember bowling with and against Wichita State and numerous other standout collegiate bowlers of that era such as Sean Rash, Justin Crumley, Jake Peters’ late wife Melissa, and an at the time young but very competitive and promising talent named Brent Bowers.  While the patterns that Toby used were by today’s standards more challenge patterns than sport patterns, they still represented a higher level of difficulty than any of us would see in our Saturday morning leagues and were great experience for junior and high school bowlers looking ahead towards collegiate bowling in addition to being great practice for those already bowling collegiately.

As I got into adult leagues, we also were fortunate enough to have the local centers experiment with sport and tougher conditions during summer leagues, which were initially quite popular, but were also quickly divisive.  The egos found out they weren’t nearly as good as they thought they were, middle aged and older bowlers who remembered the days of plastic, urethane, and short oil were suddenly reinvigorated at the idea that their old school knowledge of how to just get the pins down was now relevant and beneficial again, while the still developing bowlers like myself were stuck in the middle.  While I’d already obtained a small handful of “honor scores,” they were on typical house conditions where you played 3rd arrow and threw the ball at the friction on the outside, and that’s obviously not the play on tougher conditions.  At this time in the early to mid-2000s, it was a house shot world with sport or challenge bowling being kind of a novelty experience more for perspective and practice.  

As I began to develop somewhat of an ego of my own, I was strongly in Big Mike’s corner, and even moreso after a shoulder injury ruined my physical game, which ultimately resulted in me becoming a full time dark sider a couple years ago.   Year after year in league I’d watch both men and women who threw it well, but really had no clue what they were doing, score well and succeed, while my knowledge and experience that I’d continued to accumulate was not as effective or useful as I felt it should have been.  Not being able to rely on a solid physical game taught me a lot about laneplay and ball reaction, and when the lanes were tough, I was competitive, if they were softer, I wasn’t.  Before the age of 30, I sounded like a “boomer,” lamenting soft conditions, despising the “well if I had a ball contract and company reps following me around, I’d be on tour too,” crowd, and championing the true skill it took to succeed on “real” conditions.  It bothered me significantly that all my mental skill and knowledge was of little to no use against reactive balls thrown 18 mph at 500 rpm on conditions that just required you to get it somewhere between 5 and 15 to strike.  I was incensed that these people who wouldn’t average 170 on something tough routinely ran me over in league and thought they were actually good.  

Whenever reruns of old PBA tournaments were available on ESPN Classic, I’d marvel at the skill of the bowlers that managed to score well before the technological advancements of synthetic lanes, lane machines, and reactive bowling balls.  Sure it wasn’t pretty the majority of the time, the black and brown urethane balls of old backing up all the way down the lane and leaving half the pins on the deck every other shot, capped off by the dingy “vintage” setting of it all, but the pins still went DOWN.  What we now affectionately call “garbage time” was the norm back then.  Plenty of friction or none at all, little to no ball motion down lane, and even the best at oiling lanes were still doing it with a bug sprayer, yet the best of the best could still strike with impressive consistency.  

At the same time, I was also developing skill and a following in the pro shop world.  My disdain and borderline hatred for the sandbagging house shot crowd and league bowling in general fueled my desire for technical knowledge and accomplishment.  Mentors such as my friend Brian Zachary who really elevated those things for me across the board and taught me to be an elite level operator, and Ric Hamlin who further educated me on the larger industry, expert fitting concepts, and equipment tech drove me even more towards aspiring to the highest levels of the game.  As a result, I eventually became the best in the area to go to for all things related to pro shop services, and would put my abilities up against anyone.  As I began to accumulate patches (avast ye matey!) on my polos and now jerseys, I was increasingly displeased that I was stuck drilling “the biggest hooking ball on the wall,” for the local house shot heroes who thought that hook equaled covering boards and that all they needed to win out on tour was a sponsor and a few of their own patches.  I knew in my heart that I was above these peasants and was wasting my life ruining sanding disks by turning thumbholes into funnels for team grip it and rip it and sending them back out the door with a couple bottles of new skin.  

The realization was slow at first, but eventually I saw that these people were having a lot more fun than I was.  Additionally, the industry has a way of tempering idealism with the harsh reality that bowling faces far greater pressures from without than within.  The saying is that bowling’s biggest problem is the bowlers, and at the same time bowling participation began to decline, it’s easy to point at the obvious and simultaneous advances in technology and the rise of scores and averages.  However, being a teenager and young adult in this same time period, worldly technology had also advanced and there were a lot more things vying for people’s time and money.  Youth sports used to just be making sure at least a couple kids on the team had a baseball bat or and showing up in your budget cotton T-shirts with stick on letters to the local YMCA baseball diamond with fencing you could impale yourself on and ground packed so hard you might as well have been playing on concrete.  Now there are video games, social media, multiple streaming services, and kids specialize in certain sports they play and practice for nearly year ‘round rather than just participating in the flavor of the season.  School activities for kids have become much more expensive and time consuming, and while bowling has always been a somewhat expensive sport, there was much less back then to stress your schedule and bank account.  

The simple act of participating in a single mixed league today requires a 9-month commitment, one full evening every single week, plus gas, lineage, and likely dinner at the bowling alley for a large amount of people who barely have enough time to get home, changed, packed, and off to league.  The idea of just having two balls in a tote or a little roller, your own shoes, and very easily spending 40 bucks and an entire evening even once a week is beyond the pale for a large amount of people, and that’s if they’re single!  If you add a spouse or kids, especially if that spouse doesn’t also bowl, you continue to further reduce the amount of people that can justify the time and expense for just one league a week, let alone taking the family out for some open play when a month of Disney Plus is less than 10 bucks and a couple packs of popcorn are mere dollars.  

To now get to the point, take the 35-ish dad with a spouse and a couple kids who makes his once a week league his night out to chill and have a couple beers with some friends.  There are plenty of people like this that I know who still manage to average 220 plus dragging in the same ball they’ve been throwing for the last decade, and the last thing they want to do is go struggle or grind at the bowling alley.  Nobody has a problem with this guy, and as Big Mike mentioned in his article, more power to him, the bowling industry needs more of them.  On the other side of the coin, we have the ego that chases a staff contract for the notoriety and cheaper equipment, not to represent the company or help anyone out, and then spends their time beating up on mixed leagues before having to make two trips out to the car with all their equipment at the end of the night.  I don’t like this guy either, but they know who and what they are, and realistically, so does everyone else.  If they want to keep beating up house shot leagues and thinking that makes them special, let them.

Here’s where my opinion begins to diverge from Big Mike’s, or really where reality has shifted or directed it: Overall, I’ve spent 15 years in a pro shop, and I’ve been a Storm staffer since 2015.  Though I’m not in a pro shop anymore, with my successful YouTube channel, I consider myself an online pro shop “guy” or resource.  The time and expense that bowling requires to even participate in, let alone compete in, definitely isn’t lost on me.  Just making videos for YouTube is extremely time consuming and expensive.  Anyone who has worked in the industry knows that it’s a labor of love, you don’t get a job in bowling to get rich.  I still remember all too clearly the days of managing a pro shop where one depressing paycheck disappeared in a week, and we just had to cross our fingers for the next three weeks before the next one showed up to hold bankruptcy at bay.  Naturally, the knowledge that we in the industry are selling an extremely expensive product or service is forefront in our minds and fully understood, specifically because we know how expensive it is for us to be able to provide it in the first place.  

To be able to run a pro shop, a center, and even something as simple as a YouTube channel in the bowling industry requires a lot of compromises and ultimately a basic goal: to get butts in the seats no matter what it takes.  People already spread thin on time and money, and even the egos that get off on averaging 230 in a mixed or beer and pizza league don’t want to go beat their heads against the walls grinding out 200 on difficult conditions on a regular basis.  All integrity and idealism aside, the goal of any business is to give the customers or consumers what they want because people speak with their money.  A smart business will sell the products the customers are buying, even if it’s not what they need or “should” want.  My own integrity and idealism when it comes to producing “valuable” video content costs me an awful lot of traffic and ultimately a lot of ad revenue, because when it comes to YouTube, I try as hard as possible to stick to my guns like Big Mike.  I want to educate, not entertain.  The problem is that people often want entertainment over education, and as much as I hate it, it’s hard to ignore what the numbers are telling me.  

Idealistically, Big Mike and I are on the same wavelength.  Reading through his very thought provoking and convincing article prompted several nods, grins, and even a few utterances of “yeah buddy!”  Ultimately, I agree with everything he said, he’s not wrong and the reason he backs his opinions up with is solid.  Unfortunately, I think the reality is that however our governing body were to have handled the leaps in bowling technology, we’d still be in a similar situation.  Participation would be dwindling and trending more and more recreational.  There was an article I recently came across that said humans now collectively have smaller attention spans than a goldfish — less than 8 seconds before we’re bored with something that doesn’t pique our interest instantly.  Bowling is an exceptionally complicated game, even if all you’re doing is trying to succeed on a house shot, and regardless of where the bar is set, the expense and time it takes to become a competitive bowler for no real reward or payoff is the bigger issue.  

We have a local scratch draft league that’s made up of eighteen teams of four members each, and we annually have 10-15 that don’t get drafted.  This is a great anomaly for a couple reasons, one is that people typically want to create their own teams rather than competitively draft them, and the other is that it’s a SCRATCH league, which still blows my mind to say.  Before we even get to sport bowling, there used to be an abundance of scratch leagues, but even bowling on house shots, those have virtually disappeared as well because people don’t even want to bowl without handicap, let alone on tougher patterns.  Our league does bowl on house conditions, and is made up of several eagle winners, PBA regional titlists, and numerous former collegiate national champions.  We could elect to bowl on tougher conditions, and I don’t think anyone would really blink at that because while the scoring pace might be different, the pecking order would largely be the same.  However, the majority of us have families and are busy, or we’re getting older, don’t have the time to get out to practice, etcetera, and through this league are trying to be as competitive as we can while still keeping it somewhat relaxed.  League at any level is still, after all, a largely recreational activity, and while I fully support sport leagues being available, I don’t feel that toughening league conditions up to professional levels for any average of bowler is the solution.  There’s already a high enough barrier to entry for most people and a lot of us have forgotten this but just averaging 170 on a house shot is a couple year process for most people that involves a significant amount of time and expense.  As the average for all USBC members is still around 175, one could reasonably make the statement that no matter how easy the pattern is, bowling in general is already challenging enough for the majority of its league bowlers.  

While I think we can all agree that the cat is too far out of the bag as far as lane conditions go, I think the difficulty that bowling held in its early years was mostly due to technological limitations rather than a hard focus on integrity and fair play.  In fact, it was quite UNfair due to the wild inconsistencies you would encounter from lane to lane and center to center.  It’s no surprise that the game has gotten “easier” as technology has improved, if for nothing else but consistency and competitive regulations alone.  When that is combined with advances in ball technology, lane oil technology, the lane machines of today, and the current opportunities and coaching, I can’t say I have a major issue with the state of bowling when it comes to conditions for recreational leagues.  With the recent controversy surrounding Junior Gold and the oppressive difficulty of their lane patterns, tournament vs league aside, the same could be said when it comes to league bowlers, whatever they average.  If we’re supposed to be getting bowlers hooked and teaching them to love the game, raising the ceiling and making it more difficult to the point of demoralization isn’t the way to make that happen in my opinion.  Like with the better bowlers at Junior Gold, even the 230 plus average patch pirates (totally stealing this term) would be pushed into frustration, despite still being able to clean up against lower averages.  In addition, there’s zero incentive to pursue bowling at a much higher level because the current investment to return ratio is pitiful, and fraudulent or not (I had to use it at least once), I’m not sure anyone has ever been unhappy with shooting 300 regardless of the difficulty of the conditions.  

With the surge of popularity in youth bowling, tougher conditions are rising in popularity.  Jillian Martin famously shot her first 300 sometime in the last year, and while people were stunned to hear it, the explanation is that she just doesn’t bowl on easier conditions or she’d likely have dozens of them by now.  While they aren’t likely to change the current league environment, it should at least spearhead more varied opportunities for sport and scratch bowling to rise over the next decade or two.  However, at the end of the day, I’ll say it again, league bowling is a recreational activity, “sanctioned” or not.  I know a much larger number of people who have quit bowling because of the toxic nature of bowlers rather than developing boredom or frustration with soft conditions.  Blind and ignorant elitism isn’t only a quality of the 230 average patch pirates, the integrity and challenge crowd frequently flirt dangerously with the line between inspiring people to desire more competition and running people off by being arrogant and condescending pricks. 

My final point is that regardless of whether we like it or not, we can’t control what people want their experience to be.  The first step is getting people into bowling, and the second step is keeping them in it.  Beyond that, we should inspire them to pursue enjoyment and fulfillment with bowling to whatever end and whatever extent.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me anymore what opinion someone has of themselves, because those that work in the industry have heard it all, and ultimately “the real ones know.”  With all due respect to Big Mike and with admiration for what he wrote, I think it’s unfortunately more complicated than it feels like it should be, and maybe that’s a large part of his frustration.  All those of us on this side of the fence can do is be patient with people and try to err on the side of encouraging them to continue to pursue more competitive experiences, while reserving the frustration and irritation to conversations with other like-minded individuals.  The only thing the industry is concerned with at the moment is gaining and retaining bowlers, and beyond that, it’s going to be up to individuals like Big Mike to continue to fight the good fight because the industry unfortunately doesn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing.  The game of bowling is offered at several different levels of difficulty and competition, and while we may not like the level that people choose to participate in, the most important thing at the moment is that they’re bowling and enjoying it.