Rolling with the Pin Pals

Bowling leagues have become hip in Brunswick County, thanks to a fun group of lady bowlers known as Pin Pals, who take over Planet Fun’s cosmic Constellation Alley bowling center in Shallotte every Wednesday. The combination of these free-spirited players and an anything-but-old-fashioned bowling alley has helped revitalize the time-honored tradition of league bowling in our area.      

Ladies’ bowling leagues are having a resurgence in popularity locally — though they are not completely new. The Brunswick Belles have had an all-ladies’ league of their own since 2009. The Pin Pals got their original start in 2014 as Ladies’ Day Out, an idea hatched by Laura Botto, current president of Pin Pals, and some neighbors from the Lockwood Folly community.

“We got together as a group and spent the day bowling, then lunch and shopping,” Botto says. “We started with two teams. To keep everything equal in those days, everyone put their name in a hat, and the names for the two teams were drawn. This made it fair so that one team wasn’t made up the best players.”

Ladies’ Day Out eventually turned into a ten-pin bowling league, which combined to join forces with the Brunswick Belles. The influx of retirees relocating from bowling-centric cities in the North might explain the waiting-list status for new members to the league.

The season began September 5, 2018, for the Pin Pals and runs through April, culminating with an end-of-year banquet and awards celebration in which they honor team and individual winners with cash prizes. The league features 30 three-woman teams, with a sub for mostly every team. The league has a handicap scoring system to accommodate all skill levels with an equal chance of winning. For two hours every Wednesday morning, teams with names like Gutter Belles, Flip Flops, Bi-polar Bowlers, Bowling Stones, Splits Happen and Spare Parts, fill Planet Fun’s bowling alley with laughter, high-fives and the sounds of pins crashing into splits, spares and, of course, strikes.

“We have about 110 members,” says Susann Thompson, league secretary. “And we come from all over the county: Lockwood Folly, Holden Beach, Shallotte, Varnamtown, Southport, Calabash, Oak Island and Ocean Isle Beach. It makes us pretty unique to have such a wide representation.”

The teams are made up of members who are active in other sports as well, like golf, senior games, pickleball and bridge.

Judy Allen is a member of the BC Gator Senior Games and SilverArts Gatorettes Cheer Team. That’s where she met Botto and other league members. Bowling is an important part of Allen’s life. “If I’ve had a bad week, I really get a lift out of bowling,” she says. “And when I leave the alley, I feel wonderful no matter how good or bad I played. And, of course, it’s good exercise.”  

Bowlers in the Pin Pal league range in ages from their early 60s to 80s. But there is no minimum or maximum age range for the league. The backgrounds of the players are diverse, but their passion for bowling is the common ground they share. Word of mouth helps the league continue to grow. Bev Mastrovich, a Pin Pal member, says the growth of the league has caused them to move locations twice over the years. “We’re a big league!” she says.

These Brunswick County ladies are bringing back bowling leagues.

They’ve found a permanent home at Planet Fun, Brunswick County’s largest family entertainment center, which recently celebrated its 10-year-anniversary. This 32-lane alley is made for serious bowlers and includes a pro shop with equipment, lessons and custom fitted and drilled balls. For the non-bowlers, there is a two-story laser tag arena, bumper car arena, arcade and bounce house. Starz Grill, a full-service restaurant, serves lunch, dinner, take out and catering.

Brian McCall, owner and operator of Planet Fun, says he can’t imagine his venue without the Pin Pals, which, he adds, is the largest all-ladies league in eastern North Carolina.

“We are very excited and thrilled to have these ladies,” he says. “I’ve watched them grow from 10 teams in their first season to 30 teams. They’re not only great customers, but they’ve all become great friends to me and the staff.”

McCall credits his league organizer, Jeff Ballou, for helping the Pin Pals succeed. “Jeff coordinates the league duties for Planet Fun. He handles the scheduling and the standings. He has over 20 years in the bowling industry in this county, and knows all of the bowlers.”

For most members of Pin Pals, bowling is serious. The fellowship and inclusivity are bonuses and important parts of why they joined, but it also comes down to the bowling. League member Kathy Pawloswki says she looked at several places to relocate from Ohio before settling on Shallotte. “Honestly, we chose Shallotte because it had two bowling alleys!” she says.

Gerri Spring says she was excited to find the league when she moved here. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t bowl, and even with five children she found time for her passion on a housewives’ league. For Spring it’s a very competitive sport — everyone is trying to raise their average — but, she says, “we’re very supportive of one another too. If someone gets a strike or a spare, we all cheer.”

Botto echoes Spring’s feeling of competitiveness. “It’s not so much about ‘the team.’ At least not until the last few weeks of the tournament,” she says with a laugh.

For other members of the league, it’s the first time they’ve been exposed to bowling, or at least 10-pin bowling. Mary Ivory, in her early 80s, spent 65 years bowling in Maine. But her experience in the Northeast was much different than the traditional ten-pin game here. “I was used to duckpin or candlepin bowling there,” she says. After relocating to Brunswick County, she decided to she wanted to bowl again. Turns out, she’s a natural at ten-pin bowling, and it wasn’t long before she found herself part of the Pin Pals.

Joan Hill and Carolyn Puckett are also members of Pin Pals who have relocated to the area and sought out a ladies’ bowling league. Hill, who bowled on a company league in West Virginia for years, was introduced to the group by Thompson. “I’ve always bowled,” Hill says. “I couldn’t imagine not doing it after I retired and relocated here.”

A for Puckett, one of the original Ladies’ Day Out members, bowling has been her outlet for 30 years. “I only took some time off for a knee replacement, and I’m right back at it,” she says. 

For any woman looking for an opportunity to get involved in a sport, bowling offers beginner-to-advanced, inexpensive options, with camaraderie to boot.

Want to get in on the bowling action?

The Pin Pals league is completely full for the fall 2018 season, but contact Laura Botto or Planet Fun to get on the waiting list or to play the following season. In the meantime, perfect your skills on the lanes at Planet Fun.

Planet Fun
349 Whiteville Road, Shallotte
(910) 755-2386

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