A game for all ages: Bowlers young, old congregate on the lawns of Frick Park

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The people who pass by the green at Frick Park and peer through the fence are dog walkers, stroller pushers and runners. Hank Luba invites them to join the Lawn Bowling Club.

They tell him, "When I get older," he said.

Lawn bowlers like Mr. Luba are constantly battling the perception that the game of lawn bowling -- like early-bird dinner specials and games of bridge -- is reserved for an older set of people.

It's not an accurate perception, said Mr. Luba of O'Hara, who at 75 years old has been a member of the bowling club since 1982.

Yet Tuesday morning in Point Breeze, at one of the league's weekly games, it would have been an accurate observation.

A younger set of people walked dogs and pushed strollers through Frick Park while inside the fence, a group of about a dozen older adults pushed weighted spheres called bowls across the finely manicured lawn. One member, Ed Gannon, 82 and a lawyer who lives in Regent Square, wore a shirt that said, "I'm not aging. I'm fermenting."

The 60-member club, which has been in Pittsburgh's East End since 1939, has launched an effort to recruit new members in general and young members in particular.

The sport of lawn bowling is gentle enough that grandfathers can compete against their grandchildren and women can compete against men. It is, Mr. Luba said, a game for all ages.

The sport is played using weighted, biased spheres called bowls. The players first roll a small white ball, called a jack, across the lawn. Then they roll their bowls, which curve as they slow down, across the lawn, gaining points by getting as close to the jack as possible.

Players, spaced out on opposite sides of the lawn, communicate through hand signals.

Games are held at the green on Tuesday mornings at 10 and Wednesday evenings at 7. Lawn bowling club members compete in regional and national tournaments.

"The competition is pretty fierce, but the attitude is pretty friendly," Mr. Luba said.

One Frick Park lawn bowler who has gone to national tournaments is Helen Fickley, 75, of Penn Hills. Ms. Fickley, a retired nurse, started lawn bowling in 1995.

"I guess I'm just hooked on the sport," she said. "I didn't realize how competitive I was until I started playing."

Ask Mr. Luba, a retired salesman, why he likes lawn bowling and he responds by asking why people like walking in the park.

"That same feeling of nature, of gentleness, of being part of something, is what you find on the greens," he said.

Mr. Luba, who grew up in Pittsburgh's East End, can remember walking by the lawn bowling green when the club was at its peak in the 1950s, when it had more than 225 members.

It wasn't until 1979, when he was living in California, that he started lawn bowling. He later joked to his wife that she should never get near a lawn bowling league.

"They will drag you inside and put bowls in your hand, because they love the game and they want to share it and they are desperate for members," he said.

His wife, Eileen Luba, is now the club's president.

The club, which celebrated its newly renovated clubhouse last week, wants to put bowls in the hands of more people, and they've had some success in drawing in young people by using Facebook and MeetUp.com. They are also offering free lessons using club bowls to first-time players at 7 p.m. Thursdays. Subsequent lessons are $10 each.

For nearly 20 years, Linda Griffin of Point Breeze was one of those people who walked by the green but didn't go inside to play. She had work to do and children to raise.

The children have been raised and the work, at the engineering services company she owns, is more flexible. On Tuesday morning, she was inside the fence, bowling on the lawn, with her personal set of bowls.

Sometimes her daughter, who isn't waiting until she is older to start lawn bowling, joins her.

"She's in her early 30s and I'm in my early 60s, and here we are doing the same sport and we are equals," Ms. Griffin said.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to http://old.post-gazette.com/trypress/ Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com.


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