Challenge put Gooch to the test

Everyone is equal on the lanes -- young, old, men and women can compete and win under the handicap system.

But when you're a young woman, 5 feet, 2 inches, with less than two years of bowling experience and no experience in national competition, that idea seems far-fetched when you're faced with a man who towers over you and outweighs you by 100-plus pounds and the television lights come on.


"That's when I got a little nervous," said Stephanie Gooch, of Arnold. "When I had to walk out on the lanes with the television lights blazing. Up until then it didn't worry me."

Gooch found herself in that position less than a month ago.


The first tournament of its kind, the Fair Lanes $300,000 Challenge National Match Play Championship began in February. Tenpin bowlers had to win at the center level, then the regional level to meet at Fair Lanes Towson for the national finals and a chance to win the $30,000 first-place prize.

Regional tournaments were conducted in Phoenix, Houston, Florida, Baltimore (which included the northeast states), Washington, Atlanta and Denver.

Gooch packed years of bowling experience into a few months. It began when she placed fourth in a National Amateur Bowlers Inc. tournament last year in Crofton. She started bowling less than two years ago when a friend asked her to sub on a team. A duckpin bowler from the ages of 4 to 16, Gooch had never bowled tenpins.

"I found out that I liked it, a lot," she said. "But I never dreamed that I could compete on a national level."

Compete she did, winning at the center level at Fair Lanes Southdale. That victory was good for $500.

Next, she stepped onto the lanes in the regional event at Fair Lanes Dundalk. And walked away with a win and $5,000.

At Fair Lanes Towson, after months of intense competition, Gooch was faced with 13 men from across the nation to battle for the $30,000 top prize.

In her first six games at Fair Lanes Towson, Gooch averaged 208 in the qualifying round. When the finals started, Gooch stood at the top of the six-bowler stepladder.


"I really got nervous when I was waiting, then when I walked out on the lanes with the TV lights and that crowd of people watching, that's when it really hit me," she said.

Doug Baxley of Humble, Texas, was the bowler she had to face. He earned his spot in the national finals by beating local opponents from the Waco and Houston areas.

Finishing second to Gooch in the six-game qualifier, Baxley rolled 255 in the stepladder competition to bring him head-to-head with her.

Baxley bowled strikes in the first five frames and finished with a 235 for the championship.

But Gooch added a check for $15,000 to her other tournament checks for a total of $20,500 in winnings.

Gooch, averaging 164 in the Bowl America Glen Burnie Friday Night Goodtimers league, has a high game of 245 and a high set of 656 in her short career. She also bowls at Severna Park on Wednesdays and Annapolis Bowl on Thursdays.


Strike for the zoo

At Fair Lanes Ritchie and five other Fair Lanes center in the Baltimore area, you can see elephants, tigers, giraffes, snakes and hippopotamuses in a safari setting.

Of course, they're not real. The lane man would quit!

But if you bowl on the two lanes at the end of the house, 39 and 40, with pictures of the animals and the decorated pins with cheetah, tiger and zebra stripes, your money goes to the Baltimore Zoo. It'll all be over Labor Day.

"We let the customer know about the 'zoo' lanes when they come in," said Tory Lane, assistant operations manager. "A lot of families have enjoyed it."

Tournament news


This weekend NABI is at Crofton Centre with the 1994 Inner Circle Club Tournament with a guaranteed prize fund of $18,000.

Information: (410) 721-2401.