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Sports Outdoors and Recreation

At nearly 85 years old, Millersville bowler hasn't slowed his roll

Steve Evan's trailer home in Millersville is a living, breathing tribute to an interesting life that on Monday will be 85 years and counting. Only a small part of it speaks to a bowling career that began when Evan was in his early 40s and trying his hand at every sport imaginable after going decades without playing one.

"I started bowling when I reached 41," Evan said last week. "The rest of my life before that was just work, work and work after going to school and being in the Navy and stuff like that. I didn't have anything [for recreation], and I went and bought everything. I bought a bow-and-arrow set, a shotgun, some golf clubs, a fishing pole. That's when I started my life, really."

It was quite a life before he took up bowling. Evan said he "snuck" into the Navy at age 17 at the tail end of World War II, and the day his high school class graduated near Wilkes-Barre, Pa., he was on the USS Curtiss, preparing for the invasion of Japan. He was in Hiroshima eight days after the United States dropped the atomic bomb there in August 1945.

Evan said he and three other sailors sneaked into the city, stole a jeep and looked at the devastation. He also said he pointed a .45 at a Japanese soldier and took his samurai sword off him. Evan chronicled his two-year stint in the Navy by writing things with a pen on a laundry bag, which he still has.

The memory of Hiroshima still is vivid.

"Talk about something that stuck in your mind — that was terrible," Evan said. "I think I was sick from that radiation for about 25 years before I got over it. I never reported it because we shouldn't have been there. A lot of pains, they were bad."

Evan returned to Plymouth, Pa., briefly before going to Washington, where he went to school and eventually to work at the Goddard Naval Research Laboratory for nearly 25 years. A co-worker introduced Evan to duckpin bowling. Evan said he tried it only once and didn't like it — despite rolling a more-than-respectable 130 — before eventually turning to 10-pin bowling a few months later.

Though he doesn't remember exactly what he bowled the first time — "It must have been pretty good. Maybe around 150," he said — Evan rapidly improved and soon was bowling in the 200s on a regular basis. One day he was bowling with his late wife, Mary, when he was approached by someone who was interested in helping sponsor Evan for a pro career.

"It scared me because I had just gotten the job at Goddard," he said.

Evan stayed at Goddard, where he said he was known as "Michelangelo" for the way he neatly designed electronic experiments for about 40 rockets in the country's burgeoning space program.

"I never had a failure in any of them," he said. "All we were doing [was] studying the different layers of the atmosphere as they were going though it and coming back down."

He was briefly involved in the first manned rockets when test flights were being conducted in White Sands, N.M., but quickly decided "there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians." Evan worked at Goddard from 1953 until his retirement in 1976, even running its in-house bowling league for about 10 years.

Evan bowled in his share of pro-am events and more than held his own with the pros. He got to meet all the stars of what was the sport's golden era and said he even beat a couple of the pros. One night in 1974, Evan rolled his highest score — a 279 — for which he received a commemorative shirt with the score embroidered on the front.

"I started with a strike and then I had a spare in the second frame, and I then I struck the rest of the way," Evan recalled. "What was funny, at one point, I looked up [at the electronic scoreboard] and said, 'Wow, somebody on our team is bowling.' I didn't know it, and one of the guys said, 'You idiot, that's you.' It was amazing, I didn't realize it."

A few weeks ago, Evan needed a strike to win a tournament in Middletown, Del. Benefiting from a 60-pin handicap he was given after his average plummeted last season because of the nearly six months he missed while battling two bouts of pneumonia, Evan made a strike in the 10th frame to tie his 40-something opponent. He won with his next ball.

"He was a big guy, about 6-2 and 240 pounds, but he had a bad day and I beat him," Evan said with a laugh. "I had a terrible game, one of the worst I had in a long time. I must have had four open frames. I had to have a strike in the 10th frame. I thought, if I don't get a strike, I lose again. Every time I lose, it's in the 10th frame. When I started letting the ball go, I said, 'Somebody is helping me throw this ball.' "

Evan thinks his age came in handy that day.

"I think he was trying too hard," Evan said. "He was saying, 'I'm not going to let this little old guy beat me.'"

Evan said he felt like he was "sandbagging" because of his low average and hopes to get his game in shape when he competes in a $50,000 tournament in Las Vegas this month. He finished third in the event four years ago. Evan said he has had a history of losing tournaments by a few pins, and he will lose some of his handicap because of his recent victory.

"I like competition. I don't like to bowl against anybody who is a real poor bowler," Evan said. "I bowl better [against better competition] because I concentrate more."

Barbara Roza, who can remember her father bowling or shooting pool since she was a small child, said Evan "never lets anything get to him. He always moves forward. He just keeps hanging in there, no matter what."

Though there are still some golf clubs strewn around his home, Evan said he is mostly bowling when he isn't running a company called LA Singles he started 24 years ago that runs dances at the local Knights of Columbus lodge. He has also stopped hunting and fishing. Bowling — and shooting pool — is what keeps Evan going.

"I don't feel like I've lost too much [in bowling skills]," he said. "I don't throw a big bomb up there. I throw a big hook. I make it work."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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