Nine-pin bowing is alive and well in some south Texas communities

Last week I told of one Martin Luther bowling in a different manner that what we are accustomed to in Tiffin. It seems the religious reformer enjoyed participating in the nine-pin variety of the sport.

Ever the intrepid reporter, I decided to see what I could find out about nine-pin bowling. What I discovered was very interesting and I would like to share the information with you.

Believe it or not nine-pin bowling – brought to this country by German immigrants – was the most popular form of the sport from colonial times until the early 19th century. The game then was outlawed in many cities amid concerns that it had ties to gambling and organized crime. Bowling soon turned its attention to the 10-pin game that we are familiar with. Why nine-pin would be associated with crime but not the 10-pin version is baffling to me.

At any rate, nine-pin bowling died out in the entire country except south Texas. Several small Lone Star State cities still practice the nine-pin game including New Braunfels, which has three nine-pin bowling clubs. These clubs have leagues and many of the teams feature families that have passed the sport down through the generations.

The rules for nine-pin differ greatly from our game, but then again so does just about everything concerning the sport. First of all, the pins are set by hand as young boys serve as pinsetters, perched precariously on seats located between lanes.

The pins are set up in a diamond pattern with the center pin, or kingpin, being red in color. The pins are slightly further apart than the 10-pin version, but the scoring is a whole lot different. I will get to that in a moment, but for now you should know that a team consists of six bowlers. A game consists of six frames and each bowler will throw two balls in a frame. There is no particular order for the six bowlers as the captain will decide the order as each frame goes along.

Now for the scoring: A bowler will throw his or her first ball. Knock down all nine pins and you get 9 points. Knock down all but the red kingpin and you get 12 points. Imagine getting more points for leaving a pin rather than knocking them all down. I can visualize a change in the 10-pin game! No points are awarded until all the pins are knocked down (or all but the kingpin). A bowler conceivably could get 24 points in a frame or possibly none. If a bowler throws two balls and there are pins still standing, then the next bowler will throw at what’s left. =After their two tries, the next bowler takes a turn.

A team only can get points when all the pins are knocked down (recall the standing kingpin). The pins are only reset when all are knocked down – or again, all but the kingpin. When the sixth bowler has thrown twice, the team will get the same number of points as pins knocked down.

It is a team game. There are no individual scores. In fact when a bowler finishes his efforts, he will go over to the large chalkboard (you weren’t expecting automatic scorers were you?) and records his points. The team score for each frame is added up and the team with the most points wins the game. Whichever team with most points for the evening wins the series so each night a team can go 4-0, 3-1 or 2-2 just like ten pin bowling.

One other oddity is that the first three frames are bowled on one alley and then the teams switch lanes for the last three frames of a game.

I watched a video and the sport is fascinating, though vastly different from 10 pin bowling. These folks have been doing it for years and families seem to love it. Many of the bowlers were former pinsetters.

At the end of the video a 78-year-old grandmother was interviewed. She has been bowling with other family members for as long as she can remember. When she was asked how much her bowling ball weighed she quickly pointed out that it was 12-and-a-half pounds.

I told you nine-pin bowling was different!

It looks like most of our leagues are finished as I only found scores for two leagues. Here are those honorees and next week we will have our “salute to the champions” final bowling column before I switch to golf:

Tyson Shope topped the Rocket League with 700 on the nose. Steve Barnes shot 686, Tim Sturgill 640, John Klingshirn 608, Steve Norman 595, Dave Coppus 596 and Dottie Funk 406.

The 55 Plus Gang had their last night of action this week. Dan Coppes takes bragging rights into the summer break as he shot 613. Ken Gaietto had 610, Bob Reinhart 550, Bill Mizen 533, Jim Ruess 521, John Ferstler 507, Paul Fey 504, Jim Donaldson 451, Jim Ferstler 448 and Dave Everhart 441.

Al Stephenson is The A-T’s bowling columnist.

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