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Women Bowlers Shop, Party and - Oh Yeah - Bowl

May 29, 1991

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) _ Gladys Smith has come to Iowa to bowl, shop and party. Not necessarily in that order.

Smith and her Five Frames bowling team is in town a few days to compete in the 72nd International Bowling Congress Championship Tournament with nearly 45,000 other women.

Back home in Philadelphia are Smith’s husband, her job at the Post Office and life’s little worries. Here, Smith’s most stressful moment may be rolling a gutter ball.

″It’s a break for everybody. Who brings their husbands on this trip? None of us do,″ the 51-year-old Smith said. She draws nods of agreement and laughter from teammates.

They sit at the bar of the Cedar Rapids Bowling Center, one of two sites for the April 4-June 20 tournament. The Westdale Bowling Center on the other end of town is the other. Both are near shopping malls.

Merchants say they can spot the women bowlers a long way off.

″They come in groups of threes and fours and most of them all look alike with the uniforms and everything,″ said Angela Parvin, a Clinique consultant in the Younkers department store at Westdale Mall.

″When women are out on their own, without their husbands and kids, it’s group buying. They really encourage each other,″ said Connie Morrison, who works with Parvin.

Jim Garrett, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the tournament will have an estimated economic impact of $25.25 million.

″They are major shoppers. You kind of know if they’re from Cedar Rapids or not. One woman came in and stopped and looked around and said, ‘Ooowee.’ You can kind of tell,″ said Brenda Larson, assistant manager for Casual Corner at Westdale. ″They are all really fun ladies.″

The gift shops at the bowling centers appear to do a brisk business, too. T-shirts proclaim Cedar Rapids as the 1991 WIBC host site, including one with a caricature of a chicken encircled by the words, ″This chick bowled in the nationals.″

Not all bowlers left their husbands at home. Some came along to cheer their wives’ teams and to handle the video camera. Or to lug the bowling ball.

After checking in, teams report to their assigned lanes. They stand at attention for the national anthem. They are reminded of the WIBC rules: no smoking, eating or drinking allowed during competition. To do so risks disqualification.

That’s why the 11th frame is so popular.

″In the beginning of the tournament, they were really drinking like crazy. Bloody Mary’s, mostly. I could not keep enough vodka on hand. They have settled down a little as the tournament’s gone on,″ said Carleen Lang, a bartender-cook at the Cedar Rapids Bowling Center.

Over the din of crashing bowling pins, the echo of the public address system and the noise that a roomful of women can generate, Lang sells lottery tickets and takes orders for food and beverages.

″It’s very enjoyable to hear all the different accents. Sometimes they order a drink that goes by a different name in their part of the country. Usually it’s a drink we know but it’s not called the same thing,″ she said.

By now, Steve Benz has learned to tell which states are represented in the bar and grill area of the Westdale Bowling Center he owns.

″You see certain characteristics from certain parts of the country. Everybody has different eating and drinking habits,″ Benz said. ″When you hear someone order a drink, you can tell where they’re from.″

″If it’s a ginger ale, you can bet they’re from Philly or east of there. If it’s bitters, they’re probably from northern Wisconsin. We had someone in who said we didn’t serve sweet iced tea. So wherever they were from, they discovered we didn’t add sugar to the tea here. They had to sweeten their own,″ he said.

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