When Mary Lees Gunthers and Sam Wahbe walked down the staircase and into Stoneleigh Lanes recently, everything was exactly the way they remembered from when they were in elementary school back in 1967 — except for the cloud of smoke, of course.
"Walking down those steps was like walking down those steps 40 years ago," Gunthers said.
And when they return on Saturday, May 19, at 2 p.m. for the duckpin bowling event they've organized for their generation of alumni from Rodgers Forge Elementary and Stoneleigh Elementary, it will be full of some of the same faces as it was decades ago.
"It's the nostalgia," Wahbe said. "It's neat to have the place the same way it was. You're having a reunion, but you bring back that time — and you don't have to do any decorating."
Wahbe said this weekend's event actually blossomed from a reunion that Stoneleigh's class of 1967 held at the school three years ago.
That night, after the party broke up, they moved the festivities to Bateman's and were joined by several Rodgers Forge alumni — who back then the Stoneleigh kids ultimately joined up with at Dumbarton Middle and Towson High schools.
In those days, they said, the sixth-graders at each school would compete annually in a sports day, and as they talked over those good old days, Wahbe said there was interest in reincarnating the competition between the classes.
In their advanced ages, some of the Olympic-style events from that day were out of the question. But one location also stirred up memories from that era: Stoneleigh Lanes.
Gunthers, who now lives in Sykesville, said that when the students from that era met in "alleys" and "gutters," York Road was the neutral zone between the two neighborhoods.
"It was within walking distance for everybody, and it was the place you went," she said. "We didn't have malls to hang out in. There was Eudowood Plaza and Towson Town Plaza, but we hung out at the bowling lanes."
Thinking of those days spawns a jumble of memories for the kids of that era — from where they would go to hang out to the fate of so many of their classmates.
There was live music at the St. Pius CYO and the Rodgers Forge Teen Center, followed by subs at Harry Little's. There was Amy Joy's and penny candy at the Stoneleigh House.
But most enduring has been Stoneleigh Lanes, where many a birthday party was celebrated and the kids used to gather.
Larry Sauerwein, another Rodgers Forge alumni who currently lives in West Towson, said many of the people he's spoken to about the event remember the pinball machines the best.
So far, 40 people are signed up for Saturday's event, which will be BYOB and will continue elsewhere after the bowling is done (so the bowlers can nurse their injuries and enjoy the Preakness). Ten of those signed up thus far are from Rodgers Forge Elementary, and the rest from Stoneleigh, save for a few interlopers who couldn't miss out.
Sauerwein said he asked one friend where he went to elementary school to see if he was a fellow Rodgers Forge alumnus. The friend told him he went to Towson Elementary, but he was coming to the event anyway.
Former Stoneleigh teachers Eleanor Norris McKenna, retired, and Linda Ashe Cross, now working at Hereford Middle School, will attend the event to see students who are coming from, among other places, New York, Virginia, Florida and North Carolina.
And don't let their ages fool you. After all these years, the rivalry hasn't died out. Stoneleigh and Rodgers Forge alumni will match up on each of the eight reserved lanes, and while they aim to keep it fun, both sides want to win.
"I'll definitely be back to practice before Saturday," Sauerwein said.