105-Year-Old Bowler Leaves His Mark
CLEVELAND, Ga. (AP) _ With his mouth open and one arm in the air, Bill Hargrove leaned to the right as if trying to will the path of the bowling ball.
Moments later, at the ball return, he turned to his good friend, Tom Smith, and asked, ``How many did I get?″ Smith placed his hands on Hargrove’s shoulders and told him which pins were still standing.
At 105, Hargrove is the oldest bowler certified by the United States Bowling Congress.
His eyesight has deteriorated dramatically during the past year and he can no longer see the pins. But after more than 80 years of bowling _ he started in 1924 _ Hargrove has a mental picture of the pin configuration. He knows where to throw his red and blue marbled 10-pound ball when told which pins remain.
``He’s as accurate as he can be, and if he had a little more power in his swing, he’d bowl more strikes,″ said his 58-year-old daughter, Sandra Carnet. ``He knows where to place the ball for sure.″
Hargrove bowls two mornings a week in two senior leagues, one of which is named after him. He has a 106 average.
Most bowlers in the leagues are about 30 years his junior. Smith and his wife, Vangie, both in their mid-70s, round out his Monday team at Yonah Lanes in Cleveland, Ga. The team’s name? Billy and The Kids.
In 1991, at the spry age of 90, Hargrove took first place in the singles competition at the Georgia State Senior Championships. When he turned 105 on May 9, Hargrove tied the late John Venturello of Sunrise, Fla. _ who also bowled at 105 in 1993 _ for the record of oldest certified bowler.
``It’s an honor to be doing something nobody else can do,″ Hargrove said. ``It’s just upsetting that there’s nobody else in my age group that is still bowling.″
Between turns, Hargrove sat to rest and make notes about his most recent toss or cheered other bowlers, delighting in their strikes or giving them a consoling pat on the shoulder after a gutter ball.
Though he is competitive, his friends said, he never fails to support a teammate or opponent, offering his trademark encouragement, ``Best I ever saw.″
Bowling isn’t the only thing that gets Hargrove out of the house. Almost every Sunday, he makes the nearly 1 1/2-hour trip to Atlanta, where he lived for nearly 70 years, to attend Grace United Methodist Church. Until he was about 100, he made the drive on his own, but now gets a ride from his daughter or a friend. He is the church’s oldest active member and is in charge of the ushers and greeters.
``Our present minister isn’t going to see it any other way,″ Hargrove said. ``I’ve had that job all these years, and he isn’t going to relieve me of it, not while he’s still there anyway.″
The church held a party for Hargrove’s 105th birthday, and he sang for the congregation. A few weeks later the congregation presented him with an album of photos from the event. He recently brought it to the bowling alley.
``That album is the story of my life at the church that day, and I’m real proud of it,″ he said.
Hargrove reads the newspaper every day with a magnifying glass and is a big fan of the Atlanta Braves. He chats on the phone with friends and sits by the pool at his daughter’s horse farm in Clermont. He has lived with his daughter and her family since his wife died in 1973.
Hargrove worked for the Gulf Oil Corp. for 41 years until his retirement in 1965. He supplemented his income as a professional musician, playing the trumpet in big bands in dance halls and country clubs around Atlanta until the early 1970s.
At the bowling alley, Hargrove’s friends find him a joy to be around.
``It’s thrilling just to watch him,″ 80-year-old Hubert Davis said. ``At his age, I don’t know if anyone else could do what he does.″
Davis often drives Hargrove to church and to his Wednesday morning league in suburban Decatur. He likes listening to Hargrove’s stories.
``It helps me a lot to be able to have somebody and to be with somebody,″ said Davis, whose wife of nearly 34 years died in November.
By the end of a third game, Hargrove is often tired and has sore fingers. On a recent Monday, teammate Vangie Smith watched as one of Hargrove’s balls made its way down the lane, veering to one side.
``Oh, he’s off there,″ she said, shaking her head. Then the ball wobbled back toward the center and knocked down seven pins.
``Look at the pins he got out of that!″ she said. ``He’s amazing. I think his ball is magic.″