Several years ago when the late Joe Surwill convinced Sean Matthews to join a Lake Gaston Resort bowling team, Matthews thought, “No. Who bowls?”
Fast forward to 2020 and the answers to that question have clearer answers for Matthews.
A lot more folks around the lake than when Matthews, the resort’s sales division manager, took over the reigns of the Lake Gaston Bowling Center in Gasburg, Va. a few years ago.
Matthews himself. Quite a bit now. He even has his Professional Bowlers Associatison Card.
When Matthews, a 2010 graduate of Park View High School in South Hill, Va., started managing the bowling center, the mode of operation switched from resort membership only to open to the public.
“Since we did open it to the public,” Matthews said, “as far as our business, I mean it doubled from 2017 to 2018. As far as weekend revenue, it went up a ton.
“... A lot of people didn’t even know this existed. Before I got here, there was no sign on the building.”
Times have changed. There is a sign now, though COVID-19 closed the bowling center’s doors for four months, hurting business, and ending the league play that was in session.
But the bowling center has been back up and running since July 2 and there’s still time to get in on fall league play.
League of their own
League play went back into session Aug. 31, but the Friday Night Mixed League isn’t scheduled to start until Oct. 1.
The other leagues are the Monday Night Mixed League, Tuesday Night Men’s League and Wednesday Afternoon Mixed League.
“Anybody who wants to bowl can join,” Matthews said. “They’re all handicap leagues so it doesn’t matter if you’re a 100 average or if you’re a 220 average, the playing field is even.”
Matthews said the good thing about handicap bowling is the object is more about challenging yourself than beating someone else’s score.
Four players are assigned to each squad in the mixed league and five per team in the men’s league.
Across the board, Matthews expects the leagues to draw about 30-50 total bowlers.
The average league is about 30 weeks long.
Nuts and bolts
The casual bowler might not put a lot of thought into the correlation of lane maintenance/preparation and scores, but Matthews is on top of that at the Lake Gaston Bowling Center, which also has an arcade open to the public.
Since his arrival, Lake Gaston Resort purchased a $40,000 lane machine that cleans the center’s lanes and lays down its oil patterns.
Matthews says averages have gone up since the machine’s installation.
The Lake Gaston Bowling Center runs what is referred to as a traditional house shot, an easy pattern to land strikes with.
“You’ll see guys in here shooting 210, 220, 230 averages,” Matthews said.
As far as COVID-19 measures, the point of emphasis is sanitizing.
“We require people to wear a mask when they get here,” Matthews said. “Once they’re exercising or eating or drinking, they don’t have to wear a mask. Keeping your social distance from people. It’s just more or less courtesy. Really haven’t had any issues.”
Most of the bowlers come from around the lake and some make their way from South Hill or Roanoke Rapids, which is otherwise the closest place around to find public lanes.
Many are retired although Matthews hopes younger people will continue getting involved. “I’d like to get a lot more younger people, in their 20s, 30s out here bowling,” he said. “And we have.”
In late August, David Mokry and Janice Misiaszek got in some practice throws in preparation for league play, which then was about to start in a few days. Mokry is president of Omni International Services, which owns the bowling center. And Misiaszek is president of the Wednesday Mixed League.
Mokry, who lives in Florida but has a house on Pea Hill Creek, plays in the Monday Night Mixed League as well as the Tuesday Night Men’s League.
“Everybody knows everybody in the league,” Mokry said. “Anybody that’s new, they welcome them in. You get to see the people every week. It’s just like home. People come here and they laugh. It’s just a whole lot of fun.”
Misiaszek grew up bowling in Upstate New York and retired to Bracey five years ago.
She also happens to make the resort restaurant Rendezvous’ homemade desserts.
“I just love it,” Misiaszek said of the local bowling community. “The people are so friendly and welcoming. When I moved here, I didn’t know anybody. I started to come in to sub and all of a sudden, I was bowling three times a week.”
Matthews worked in the marina business with his father before joining the Lake Gaston resort team and getting the proposal from Surwill to join the Tuesday Night Men’s League.
His first year, Matthews’ average was 89, but when he started managing the lanes, that number soared to 180.
Last year, Matthews’ cumulative average over three leagues was 217.
“Anybody can be a PBA professional as long as they average at least 200 over a 66-game league,” Matthews said.
He only had the chance to compete in one PBA event in Chesapeake, Va. last year before COVID-19 interrupted his summer bowling plans.
By next year, he hopes to get back down to business, but it could be even sooner.
In some PBA tournaments, the payouts for top finishers can be as high as $50,000-100,000. Matthews said he’s not in a league with those bowlers.
“You practice enough,” Matthews said, “who knows.”
The Lake Gaston Bowling Center is open to the public from 2-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Call 434-577-2075 or visit lakegastonresort.com for more information.