Underneath the well-furnished and pristinely decorated interior of the Faculty House is a lighter, more whimsical refuge for professors otherwise bound by the confines of academia while at the College. In the basement is a small, dimly lit room that resembles a scene from the ’60s, the old-time aura evidenced by dusty wooden floors, a worn ping pong table off to one side, bulletin boards decorated with announcements and memorabilia dating back to 1950, and the dominating feature of the room: two modest looking candlepin bowling lanes.
While the lanes might appear forgotten, every Tuesday and Thursday night the Williams College Faculty Bowling League meets to compete and socialize in the offbeat yet cozy basement. Six self-selected teams – the Alley Cats, Marauders, Class Act, Rowdy Randoms, Crafty Vets and Wiley Women – each composed of six to eight players who are mostly community members of the faculty club – compete in regular season matches before the annual final tournament.
The league consists of 35 regular bowlers and a few honorary members, all of different skill levels and ages. “Many people join because they have a friend or co-worker who bowls,” said Mary Pfister, program manager of the Williams College Summer Theater Lab and captain of the Alley Cats for the past three years.
In past years, ages have ranged from mid-twenties to one 92-year old bowler, the oldest woman to compete in the league.
A particular skill level is not required to compete in the league. Many members had no prior experience with candlepin bowling, a form of bowling different from ten-pin bowling in that competitors bowl three balls per frame with a smaller bowling ball and thinner pins. The pins are not cleared away between player’s three bowls, another distinct difference from ten-pin bowling.
“The bowlers’ levels of skill are all over the place, from very serious local league bowlers to those praying to avoid three gutter balls in a row,” Pfister said. Joining in 2007, Pfister had never played before but describes it as “a different social activity that turned out to be a tremendous amount of fun.”
A handicap system evens out the playing field, allowing for such a range in skill level. Pfister explains that, “the first week’s scores are averages for each bowler. Then the four high scoring bowlers for the team are added up. The next week the teams are given a positive or negative handicap, so the teams start evenly.” The handicap is adjusted each week, as each bowler’s average score changes weekly.
Regular season play leads up to the final tournament, which spans over two weeks. Traditionally, the championship game is followed by a banquet where the winning team receives a trophy and other certificates are awarded for highest game, highest two-game score, highest average in different categories and most improved, among others.
Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life and the new captain of the Rowdy Randoms, has bowled in the league since 2004. While Schiazza and his team have enjoyed success in the league, traveling to the finals three of the past six years and claiming the championship one of those years, Schiazza said, “Most of us just bowl for the fun of it and the camaraderie.” Pfister agreed: “Everyone wants to win but the camaraderie is what makes it well worthwhile,” she said.
This year, however, there have been many technical problems with the lanes, preventing the teams from bowling on a regular basis. The lanes have been closed for repair since the first week of December. “This year has been difficult for the league. The lanes are getting old and are in disrepair,” Schiazza said. On top of these issues, there have been recent water leakages, another matter that must be resolved before the bowling continues.
The constant problems with the lanes have driven the Marauders to quit the league. Pfister said that the league lost the team “because of the frustration of not being sure the lanes will work.”
Nate Wiessner, College costume shop manager and organizer of the bowling league, hopes the league will continue meeting regularly, as “the league, when it has been functioning fully, is a great opportunity for faculty, staff, and community members to come together in the spirit of fellowship.” However, he is unsure when the lanes will be properly functioning. “[Facilities] is doing their best to maintain the lanes, but specialized equipment needs to be worked on by a trained professional,” he said.
The antique, nostalgia-triggering atmosphere of the basement nevertheless continues to draw visitors. Whether they end up having to manually set up the pins, Wiessner and the faculty bowlers will return to the lanes soon enough.