- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

The sound inside Bowl America Gaithersburg is deafening. The Village People's crowd-pleasing "YMCA" is blaring, and action on the center's 48 lanes halts while dozens of teen-agers spell the four letters with their arms between rolls.

Moments later, it's "Macarena," and bowling center manager Jackie Sewell alerts the bowlers over the public-address system that the "Bowl America Dancers" actually two Bowl America Inc. employees are dancing on a tabletop behind the front desk.

The entire center is darkened. The only light comes from colored disco strobes, the TV screens that display bowlers' scores and strips of lights between the lanes.

Welcome to "Cosmic Bowling," one of the latest teen-age rages and part of an ongoing and seemingly successful attempt by bowling centers to appeal to today's image-conscious and restless teen-age population.

For those parents who still associate bowling with the three B's (Al) Bundy, (Archie) Bunker and beer today's bowling centers (even the word "alley" has been stricken from the sport's vocabulary) will be an eye-opening experience.

AMF, which operates 15 bowling centers in the Washington area, has a similar program called "Xtreme Bowling" at seven of its local centers. The formula is the same loud music plus dark atmosphere plus lighted pins equals teen hangout for the summer. Teens aren't the only ones populating bowling centers today.

"The big thing that people discover when they get inside a bowling center after many years is that bowling is for all ages," says Ms. Sewell, who has been in the bowling business for almost 30 years. "We have 18-month-olds bowling here sometimes."

Indeed, on this particular Thursday afternoon, waves of teen-agers shared the Gaithersburg lanes with parents and their children. Tami Matson of Gaithersburg and her children Jillian, 8, and Cory, 6 and family friend Mitchell, 2, bowled with Lisa Bozzonetti of Frederick and her children, Jon, 4, and Jess, 7.

"We try to do something every Thursday together," Mrs. Bozzonetti says. "We've bowled a few times together in Frederick, but I've never heard of Cosmic Bowling until today."

One lane over, Ariel Patterson, 12, Jillian Engel, 12, and Rachel Redman, 11, all classmates at Hoover Middle School in Potomac, were bowling and dancing away. Rachel and Jillian both say they like to dance while they bowl.

"It's just a fun activity," Rachel says.

Ms. Sewell says bowling centers have tried to attract family audiences in recent years with lighter balls and smaller shoes. Most centers offer 6-pound balls and size 6 infant shoes for the smaller members of the family.

She is particularly proud of Bowl America's "Rolling Rewards" program, another effort to attract families. Children who bring their report cards to a Bowl America center can earn a free game for every "A" earned during the entire school year.

"We've been running the program for four years, and I think it's one of the best ones I've seen," Ms. Sewell says. "Honor roll kids can really rack up the free games if they've got all their report cards for the year."

Irv Clark, general manager of Bowl America, says Cosmic Bowling has been a "savior" for the sport's reputation among area teen-agers.

"It has helped the game tremendously, no doubt about that," Mr. Clark says. "Bowling has dropped off a bit, though not as much in our area as it has in others. It's been kind of the savior of bowling. Cosmic Bowling gets families out and gets parents interested in league bowling, so it's kind of a cycle for us."

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