Blind Bowling: An Indoor Sport that is Fun for Everyone

A man bowls wearing dark glasses and using a guide rail.

Photo by Vision Aware

Bowling is a fun indoor pastime to be enjoyed on a Friday night out with friends or a rainy Sunday afternoon with the grandchildren. It is easily adapted for people experiencing vision loss.

Both Kathy Brockman and Sally Zenchenko are long-time bowlers. They have enjoyed the sport for over fifty years.

“My favorite aspect of blind bowling is the camaraderie,” says Council board member Kathy. She has held local, state and national positions within the American Blind Bowling Association (ABBA). “Even though I no longer bowl, I still go to my league every week to visit with my friends. Many of us have known each other for decades; it is almost like a family.”

This article discusses adaptations of the sport for people who are blind or visually impaired, the history of blind bowling and how you can participate in leagues in Wisconsin.

How Bowling is Adapted for People who are Blind or Visually Impaired:

A man bowls while wearing a blindfold.

Photo by: International Blind Sports Federation.

Adaptations for blind bowling include tactile marking of bowling balls, having a person who is sighted serve as a pin caller, and the use of a blind bowling rail. Since many bowlers own their own bowling balls, bowlers may mark their bowling balls with tactile tape or with specific nicks and scratches. Their ball can then be identified when it shows up on the ball return.

Another adaptation is a pin caller. To assist the bowler who is blind or visually impaired, it is necessary for a person who is sighted to call where the ball hit, how many pins were knocked down and what pins remain.

A blind bowling rail is placed behind the foul line and extends backward along the approach, guiding the bowler towards the lane. The bowler who is blind or visually impaired follows the rail up to the foul line and stands parallel to it. When they throw the ball, they are usually lined up to aim for pin 1.

Rails are either 12 or 15 feet long, depending on the league’s preference. They are weighted down at each end with bowling balls. Lightweight and collapsible, rails come apart for easy storage. Call your local bowling alley and find out if they have one. Rails are available for purchase from the ABBA. Blind bowling leagues often own blind bowling rails.

To learn more about blind bowling rules, you can find the Instructional manual for Blind Bowlers at abba1951.org/InstructionalManualForBlindBowlers.html. Now, a word about the history behind the sport, and where to find a blind bowling league near you.

Blind Bowling Leagues:

Starting in 1910, blind bowling was a sport played only by people attending schools for the blind. Outside of these schools, the sport was rarely played. The American Blind Bowling Association (ABBA) was founded in 1951 to provide standardization in the sport, and spurred national appeal. Today, there are 3,000 members in about 150 leagues throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Tournaments are held in various cities throughout the United States and Canada. On or around Memorial Day weekend, a national tournament is open to all leagues who are members of ABBA. Find locations and contact information at the ABBA website at abba1951.org/ABBA%20Leagues.html. There are five leagues listed in Wisconsin. Two are in Madison, two are in Janesville and one is in Milwaukee.

“I like bowling because it gets me out and with other people,” says Sally Zenchenko, who bowls actively in a Madison Blind Bowling League. “Bowling is easy to learn and it is not a huge time commitment. My favorite memories throughout the years have been traveling to national tournaments and meeting people from other leagues. It is nice to get together and bowl.”

Visit the website of the ABBA to learn more about this fun sport at abba1951.org and to find a league near you.

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