Still rolling

Brides­burg Ladies Bowl­ing League still hanging tough at Erie Lanes.

  • MARIA YOUNG / STAR PHOTO

  • MARIA YOUNG / STAR PHOTO

  • MARIA YOUNG / STAR PHOTO

  • Spare time: The Bridesburg Ladies Bowling Club has been in existence for more than 50 years at Erie Lanes. MARIA YOUNG / STAR PHOTO

In its hey­day, the Brides­burg Ladies Bowl­ing Club had more than 120 mem­bers, pack­ing the house every Tues­day morn­ing at Erie Lanes in Ju­ni­ata. 

While its num­bers have dwindled over the dec­ades to about one-sixth of that ori­gin­al fig­ure, the en­thu­si­asm and fest­ive­ness are still hum­ming for these older ladies who are still very much young at heart. Stride in­to the al­ley just past 9 a.m. every Tues­day, and you’re sure to hear lots of laughs and play­ful in­sults amongst pins drop­ping in­to the back of the lanes.

Much of this zest for bowl­ing, and more im­port­antly, life and so­cial ca­marader­ie, comes from Jack­ie De­S­anc­tis, bet­ter known as Miss Jack­ie around these parts, or more simply, “Queen.” De­S­anc­tis, who is com­ing up on her 80th birth­day, has been run­ning the ladies bowl­ing league since 1962. 

Back then and through the years, close to 50 lanes would be filled, and bowl­ers would be placed in an A-, B- or C-di­vi­sion, de­pend­ing on their av­er­age score. 

Now, there’s a touch over 20 wo­men still act­ively par­ti­cip­at­ing, spread out over eight teams and just one di­vi­sion. Des­pite the shrink­ing num­bers, you’d nev­er know any­thing has changed.

“You only got a strike be­cause there’s some­body here watch­ing us!” De­S­anc­tis jok­ingly bel­lowed at a fel­low bowl­er, re­fer­ring to the pres­ence of this vis­it­ing re­port­er.

While some of these wo­men are in their 70s, 80s, and, in one case, even 90s, they bust chops like teen­agers dur­ing a pickup bas­ket­ball game.

“Back in the 60s, I had an ex­er­cise class with about 12 wo­men, and they all got tired of it,” De­S­anc­tis said between rolls. “I knew there was bowl­ing here at the same time, so I signed us all up. I just did it be­cause they were bored, so I signed them up without them even know­ing. We stayed more for the so­cial­iz­a­tion and the friend­ships that de­veloped, more so than the bowl­ing.”

Sure, there are a few ace bowl­ers in the bunch, but what keeps the ladies com­ing back every week is the com­pany. When people age, hob­bies are some­times hard to come by, but not for these folks. 

“She can take any­thing and make something out of it,” bowl­er Mag­gie Smith af­fec­tion­ately said of Miss Jack­ie.

De­S­anc­tis was born in Chester County and came to work at Brides­burg Rec Cen­ter in 1959 to work for the city as a pro­gram lead­er. She worked in the same place un­til she re­tired in 2005, and then be­came an un­paid vo­lun­teer at the rec cen­ter, where she puts in the same amount of time she did back then — about 50 hours a week.

“I know my­self … I have zero hob­bies,” she said with a laugh. “If I could nev­er bowl again it wouldn’t both­er me, be­cause I don’t have a pas­sion for it. My pas­sion is my job, and they let me stay on to over­see the dance, gym­nastics and tot rec pro­grams while still hand­ling or­gan­iz­a­tion­al work and fin­ances. I’ve al­ways been in the same neigh­bor­hood and al­ways had enough au­thor­ity to sat­is­fy me, so I just nev­er stopped.”

Hav­ing said that, De­S­anc­tis still has a pas­sion for the league, if not for bowl­ing it­self. 

It’s something she’s helped main­tain for more than 50 years, and al­though the par­ti­cip­a­tion has shrunk due to more ladies hav­ing to work while oth­ers have passed away, she and those left still hold a deep af­fin­ity for one an­oth­er, the last lines of de­fense to carry on a tra­di­tion that has stretched in­to its sixth dec­ade.

“We’re still here every Tues­day morn­ing,” she said. “Mix­ing with dif­fer­ent types of people while bowl­ing is a so­cial out­ing for us. It’s hanging on by a shoes­tring now, but for all of us it gets us out of the house for a few hours and gives us something to do. For me, it’s a break in my every­day life at the play­ground. 

“We still have a great time. It’s more in­form­al than be­long­ing to an of­fi­cial club, and it’s all-in­clus­ive. Any­body who wants to join can, even though we’re lucky if we get one new bowl­er a year at this point. It’s just very fun and re­lax­ing.”

Nancy Flem­ing has been a part of the league for al­most 38 years. A former cross­ing guard, she told a story about how she’d come in­to the al­ley from the corner she was work­ing, bowl her turn, then go back out­side to work. 

“I just en­joy the people,” said Flem­ing, one of the league’s more skilled bowl­ers. “The whole thing is the so­cial as­pect. Our num­bers are down and that’s a shame, but we still have a good time. There’s no pres­sure, and you get to see a lot of the people you’ve known for years. As you get older, that’s im­port­ant.”

“It gets us out of the house,” ad­ded El­len Boice, the league’s treas­urer and sec­ret­ary. “I haven’t been feel­ing well, but since I got here and star­ted bowl­ing, I feel bet­ter. A lot of us have been here for years, and we all get along. It can be hec­tic, but most of all it’s fun.”

And then there’s Rose Stalk­er, who still bowls every Tues­day des­pite the fact that she turns 93 years young in Au­gust. She’s been bowl­ing since she was 18, and es­tim­ated she had been with the Brides­burg league some­where in between 20 and 30 years. 

“Oh, I just love it,” she said in between turns. “It’s good for me. I had open-heart sur­gery not long ago, and the first thing I told the doc­tor was that I want to keep bowl­ing. I came right back as soon as I could, and I’ll do it for as long as I can.”

That seems to be the over­all sen­ti­ment of the league. While there’s only two dozen or so of them, most of the ladies said they’ll either bowl for as long as their health al­lows, or un­til the league runs out of mileage and folds up. 

“At my best, I was bowl­ing around a 140,” De­S­anc­tis said. “Now I’m lucky if I get to 110. But that doesn’t mat­ter. What mat­ters is we have a great time, and we’re all still here.” 

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