After picking up a spare in her singles bowling league, Delores Dunne couldn’t resist jabbing her opponents in the way that friendly competitors do.
“I don’t want to make this game look too easy,” Dunne said as she headed back to her seat.
For an hour on a recent weekday afternoon, Dunne and three friends gathered at their favorite lane to knock down pins and share a little camaraderie. A few stories were told, good play was cheered and, of course, there was plenty of ribbing.
“Show off,” taunted Connie Caruso when Georgia Farbiesti bowled another strike.
“You got it,” Farbiesti quipped.
Such banter could be heard in any bowling league in any bowling alley, but there are some important differences with this group. For starters, they’re not actually in a bowling alley.
Farbiesti, Dunne, Caruso and Lillian Wieland all live at the Altenheim, a senior community on the west side of town. Four times a week, league members meet in front of a big-screen television and bowl to their heart’s content on Nintendo’s Wii gaming system. Using a cordless controller to manipulate a virtual bowling ball, players control the direction, the speed and the spin – just like at the bowling alley. What makes the virtual experience more appealing, said several players, is seniors aren’t forced to wrestle with a heavy bowling ball, and those with less mobility can stay seated while they play.
“This gets more people [involved] than just a select few,” Wendy Kehane, director of resident services at the Altenheim, said. “We’re able to get half the building.”
The first league started with only eight people, but that number has since doubled.
Kehane introduced the video game as a way to encourage social interaction and get a little exercise. The Altenheim community includes several buildings and residents tend to be make friends within their building, Kehane said. The game has changed that. Also, more reclusive residents are drawn into new social circles by all the excitement.
Kehane said she’s looking into other video game titles that might spur a greater level of physical activity. Users can also buy lightweight dumbbells and aerobic steps that interact with the system.
Joann DeMauro wasn’t bowling, but during a recent Wednesday afternoon she was part of the peanut gallery. Like many at the Altenheim, DeMauro said she was skeptical of playing a video game. Her experience with such gadgets was limited to a few hands of solitaire on the computer, and she didn’t want to embarrass herself.
“Now I think it’s fun to stand up there and make a fool of myself,” DeMauro said.
Players have given each other nicknames and silly prizes are awarded. One woman struggled to master the controls, said Kehane, and tossed the bowling ball in the wrong direction 127 times. Yes, they kept count. She was a good sport about it and even wore a crown made by the other players during a crafts session.
In her younger days, Caruso played in a league that originated with members of her church. It wasn’t long, she said, before things moved into the gutter.
“We named ourselves. We were the Boozers,” Caruso said. “We always had a drink in our hand and I think I used to bowl better with a drink in my hand.”