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The thunderous sound of a 15-pound ball crashing into 10 plastic-coated pins after rolling some 60 feet down a wooden lane at nearly 20 mph has been absent from the southern part of Carroll for nearly a year.
With the only tenpin bowling alley in Eldersburg closed since last May, enthusiasts of the most popular participatory sport in the country have had to travel to Taneytown or Greenmount or out of Carroll entirely just to bowl in a league or for fun.
Two local entrepreneurs are aiming to keep tenpin bowlers from leaving the area when they want to roll a few frames. They say they have signed a lease and are reopening an existing alley on the first floor of the Princess Shopping Center along Md. 26, rechristening it as Freedom Lanes on March 4.
Friends and business partners Jeremy Haines and Tim Stitely, both of Westminster, say there's a need for more outlets for Carroll bowlers and that their experience in the sport will help them be successful.
"You've got to look at it as, it's not a 'business' business, it's a 'bowling' business," Haines said. "You've got to know the ins and outs of the bowling world."
Both Haines and Stitely have been bowling since they were kids. They are not only active participants, they are huge fans who want to try to grow the sport. They see owning a bowling alley as a labor of love.
Haines said he carries about a 220 average and holds the high set at Greenmount Bowling Center, having put up a three-game mark of 856 that included one of his "300 games." He also worked on the site of the future Freedom Lanes during one of its previous incarnations.
Stitely, who said he averages in the 190s, has been a certified instructor for eight years and coaches youths on weekends. He said he has been looking for an opportunity to own a bowling alley for a long time, and nearly took over the former County Lanes around the turn of the century.
In fact, much of the equipment and the lanes that now make up the alley Haines and Stitely own and will operate were bought and removed from County Lanes when that business closed its doors nearly a decade ago, and installed on the site that is now Freedom Lanes.
"There hasn't been a tremendous amount of rehab necessary," said Haines, noting that the lanes have not been used for the past 10 months and that he believes they will be certified by the U.S. Bowling Congress during an inspection that will occur after Freedom Lanes opens.
The co-owners said they believe there will be no shortage of bowlers eager to sign up for leagues or drop in for some family fun or make a habit of weekend-night "Rock and Bowl" outings - providing they are given a good experience.
"It's all about keeping the customers happy, listening to bowlers. If averages start dropping or something starts happening, understanding how to go out there and fix it and make it right so that they'll come back," Stitely said.
He explained that an alley must be all things to all bowlers, catering to serious, competitive league bowlers, recreational league bowlers, and those just looking for something fun to do on a whim with family or friends.
He said there is plenty of population in southern Carroll and in Westminster to support Freedom Lanes.
And there are plenty of bowlers. A Simmons Research study found that 22.2 percent of Americans bowled at least one game in 2010. There were more than 70,000 USBC-sanctioned leagues.
Haines said Freedom Lanes will have rooms to host birthday parties and hot food available once the facilities are inspected. As much as he expects leagues to flourish, he said it's even more important to have a family-oriented atmosphere.
"It's really family entertainment," said Haines. "For what one person would pay at a nice golf course, you could bring your whole family to bowl and eat."
The timing of the opening isn't ideal simply because the busy winter months are nearly over, but Haines recalled long weekend waits for bowlers when he worked on site under old management and said that although there are challenges, he is confident Freedom Lanes will be a success.
"Nine months a year, it's a very strong business," he said. "Summer months, everyone wants to be outside. The only good part is if it gets to 95 and 100 degrees, we do have air conditioning. We pray for a hot, rainy summer."
If things go well for Haines and Stitely in Eldersburg, Freedom Lanes might only be the beginning. Westminster, which once had two flourishing bowling alleys and now has none, is intriguing to the two Westminster High School graduates.
"I'm always looking," Stitely said. "The ultimate goal, down the road, would be to get a new house here in Westminster. Because I know it would do well."