- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

Greg Gontaryk hears that he’s up next, so the veteran bowler takes a moment to dry his hands with a towel.

Moving purposefully, the 57-year-old from Upper Darby, Pa., eases into the approach section of the lane.

Reaching for a rail specially installed for this unique tournament at Liberty Lanes at Massaponax, in Northern Virginia, Mr. Gontaryk sends his ball gliding down the lane, leaving just one pin standing.

“All but the 10 pin,” calls his spotter. “Good work, Greg.”

Mr. Gontaryk, like many of the 67 bowlers who recently gathered for a two-day tournament at Liberty Lanes, is totally blind.

The event was sponsored by the Southeast Blind Bowling Association, which has members from Pennsylvania to Florida. Bowlers’ visual abilities range from full sight (mostly spotters and helpers) to partial vision to full blindness.

“Some people hear ‘blind bowlers’ and they immediately think we put bumpers in the alleys,” said tournament director Sandy McDaniel, of Daytona Beach, Fla. “We actually follow all the same rules and regulations as all bowlers.”

The single difference is the railing in each lane to let bowlers with severe sight deficits feel where they’re standing.

Cathy Fleming, who helped plan and bring the event to this area, said organizers wanted a city without a blind bowling league or group so that “the exposure will lead to interest and the start of a new league.”

The event featured team, masters and individual competition, with teams from such cities and states as Baltimore, Richmond, Delaware, Florida and Pennsylvania.

In addition to competition, the event included a banquet and a dinner dance.

“It’s an important opportunity for socialization for many who take part,” said Harold Beares, an organizer and participant from Baltimore. “It gives our members something to go out and take part in on a regular basis.”

But don’t think these bowlers are just out for fun.

“For me, it’s all about being competitive, getting the best score I can put up,” said Mr. Gontaryk, whose red-white-and-blue jersey and 140 average make him a standout.

Mr. Gontaryk practices several times a week, bowling six games or more to keep his form.

Because he cannot see the pins or where his ball is heading, Mr. Gontaryk relies on practice to keep his style and movements consistent enough to rack up good scores.

Marie Van Liere, of Newport News, agreed that practice is the key.

She should know. The 47-year-old has taken part in international blind bowling competitions in Australia, England, Finland, Singapore and the U.S.

With just enough of her fading sight left to line herself up by the dots on the lane, Miss Van Liere gets the greatest joy in her life from bowling.

Said friend Suzzette Kirkley: “She broke her hip a while back and was bowling from her wheelchair. It’s what she loves to do.”

Miss Fleming said those interested in a blind bowling league in the Fredericksburg area could call her at 540/400-8833 to get information.

Some of the tougher hurdles are arranging transportation for bowlers and getting enough sighted people to serve as spotters.

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