Now's time to check out equipment, practice for the fall Proper ball and shoes are necessities for game

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Difficult to believe, but summer is fast fading. In a few weeks the fall-winter bowling season will be upon us.

What happened to that promise you made to yourself that you were going to practice this summer? This was the year that you were going to be in mid-season form when the fall season began . . . remember?

OK, you folks who bowled in a summer league are exempt, and, I guess, the bowlers who bowled in a few tournaments did get a little practice. The rest of you? Shame. You threw the bag and ball in the closet and forgot about bowling for the summer. Time to get the bag and ball out of that closet, check them out, and get some practice before the league starts.

This is a great time to go over your bowling equipment. The correct equipment, equipment that's in good repair, is a big boost to your game, duckpins or tenpins.

Let's start with the bowling ball bag. If it's just a little banged up, a little dirty, a little scuffed, that's OK. Clean it up and make it do.

But if you notice the handle starting to tear where it attaches to the bag, it means that a new bag couldn't hurt. Of course, a new bag does get rid of those lingering odors. If you decide to buy a new bag, make sure that it's sturdily built. That's especially true if you're buying a tenpin bag that carries more than one ball. The last thing you need is having your bag rip open on a snowy winter night when you pull it out of the car trunk.

Bowling balls. Sure, they're available at the bowling center, and in a pinch they'll do the job. However, because of simple economic facts, house balls are usually in poor condition. Bowling balls are expensive. When you have to stock a bowling (( center with new bowling balls, you're talking about a major expenditure. It follows that house balls are often scratched, nicked, or in some extreme cases, have actual holes in them.

Even if they are in great shape, there's still the problem of weight. Finding the exact weight you need can be frustrating and time-consuming. The chance of finding the same ball or balls the following week is pretty small.

If you're a tenpin bowler, the problem is compounded. Now you have to find a ball that fits your hand and your fingers. This can drive you crazy.

Now is the time to buy your own bowling ball. How much will you spend? Duckpin balls can range from reconditioned ones for as little as $25 up to $65 for top-of-the-line new balls. That's for two balls: Duckpin balls are sold in pairs.

Legal weight duckpin balls range from 3 pounds 6 ounces to 3 pounds 12 ounces. That's a big range in weights, and you should give a great deal of consideration to the proper weight for your age, size and hand strength.

There are two diameters for duckpin balls, one for tenpin balls. The duckpin ball will be either 5 inches or 4 7/8 in size. Of course, a duckpin ball that's been reconditioned (turned down to remove nicks and scratches) will be a tad smaller and may even give a better "feel" to your grip.

Tenpin balls have reached the point where the market has so many different brands, makes, models, weights and construction that it's just about impossible to make a purchase without the help of a professional. And buying a tenpin ball is a major investment. Some tenpin balls are approaching $200; a good, medium-priced ball will cost more than $100.

Of even more importance than price is the level of expertise of the pro shop operator. It's just not wise to have three holes drilled in a ball and call it a day. With the plethora of materials and the fact that balls can have two, three, four or more pieces in their construction, you have to have an extensive knowledge to fit and drill a ball properly.

Talk to other bowlers, ask a lot questions when you're in the pro shop, make sure that the ball feels right. More important, make sure the ball does what it's supposed to on the lanes.

When you watch the pros on TV, you see and hear a lot about switching ballsfor changing lane conditions, even for shooting spares. Is it necessary? I'm sorry to say, yes, it really is necessary today if you want to excel.

Does the average league bowler, the one-night-a-week bowler, need more than one ball? Not in my opinion. But make sure that you explain to the pro shop operator that you need a ball that will react to the same conditions every time you bowl.

Not that lane conditions can't change in your regular center from week to week, but chances are good that the condition will be pretty consistent. Will a second ball improve your game? Probably. Will a third and fourth ball really help? If you're an advanced amateur or a professional, definitely. If you're the average league bowler, it probably won't make much difference.

Books have been written about tenpin bowling balls; it's a complicated subject. Talk to other bowlers, talk to different pro shop operators, and don't expect a new ball to turn you into an instant star.

Shoes. How important? Maybe more important than the ball. No matter how advanced the bowling ball, no matter how skilled the bowler, if you can't walk and slide properly, your game is going to suffer.

There was a time when you bought a pair of bowling shoes, one pair, and wore them until they fell off your feet. Now, more and more bowlers are buying two and three pair of shoes, carrying them into the centers and changing shoes to fit the existing approach condition.

If you watch the professionals, you'll see bowlers wearing mismatched shoes.It's not unusual for a pro bowler to have new soles put on his shoes between sets.

First, as with any pair of shoes, make sure that your shoes fit exactly the way you like them. Make sure that you're wearing the same type of socks that you bowl in when you try them on. How about using house rental shoes? Sure, they're available if you don't have your own, but it's difficult to get a pair that feels exactly right. The charge? It's a modest $1 or $2 to rent shoes, but if you bowl in a league, that can quickly add up to the price of a new pair of shoes.

That price will range from $25 to more than $100, with a good, medium price being about $65. If your shoes are in good repair, feel comfortable and you're having some difficulty with the approach, think about having them resoled. Again, talk to other bowlers, talk to your pro shop operator before you make a decision. The right shoes will make a big difference in your game.

OK, that's the equipment that you really need for bowling. How about all the rest of the stuff? The towels, the tape, the powder, the wristbands.

OK, towels first. Yes, you really do need one. Your ball is picking up lane dressing every turn it rolls down the lane, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always some. Just make it a habit, wipe the ball every time you pick it up. It's not necessary to turn this into a long, drawn-out, time-consuming ritual, just wipe the ball off and don't hold up the game.

Tape. Tenpin balls that are fitted and drilled properly will fit snugly around the thumb and fingers. The hand will change size as you bowl, as the seasons change. Adding or subtracting tape, especially in the thumb hole, will assure a proper fit. Again, don't hold up the game while you play with the tape. Have it ready, pop it in or tear it out, and get on with the game.

Wristbands. Their purpose is to hold the wrist in the same position and to provide support during delivery. For duckpin bowlers, a simple elastic wristband that costs $5 or $6 is all you need. For the tenpin bowler, you're talking price of up to $50 and a range of bands from the extremelysimple to space-age complexity. Do you really need a wristband? Probably not. But if it provides even a psychological help, get it.

Powder. Yes, it can help you slide more freely, but remember that it can also be detrimental to other bowlers. If you want to place a small amount directly to the bottom of your shoe, OK, but be sure that powder doesn't get scattered in the bowling area or on the approach.

* Tournament news

* The Maryland State WBA Queen's/Princess' Scratch/Handicap Tournament will be at White Oak Lanes, Cumberland, on Sept. 19; entires close next week, Aug. 15.

* The 3rd Annual Team Classic is in progress every weekend through Aug. 22 at Suburban Bowlarama in York, Pa. The first prize, to be determined Labor Day weekend, is four new 1992 Pontiac Lemans autos and $2,000 cash. Information: 717-848-1632.

* The 3rd Annual Country Club Classic Tournament is taking place every weekend through Aug. 22. First prize is $4,000. Information: 410-686-2556.

* NABI will be at Fair Lanes Ritchie next weekend, Aug. 15 and 16. As always, the first prize is a guaranteed $1,000. On Aug. 30, NABI will hold its Inner Circle Club Tournament at Crofton Bowling Centre, Crofton, with a prize list over $20,000. Don Vitek's "Best of Bowling" radio talk show will be live from the concourse of the center that Sunday at 5 p.m.

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