Sunset sport is not going out quietly

League bowling numbers are dropping as the last remaining five-pin bowling centres struggle to remain viable

For bowling proprietor Keith Stevenson, Old Orchard Lanes will not go gentle into that good night.

The former owner of Hastings Bowl was content to ease into semi-retirement following a fire that destroyed the abandoned bowling centre in the summer of 2007.

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But when the last remaining five-pin centre in Burnaby at Old Orchard was threatened with closure four years ago, Stevenson stepped in to ensure its survival.

When Stevenson took over he put in computerized scoring, brightened things up with a new coat of paint and spruced up one of the last remaining houses with hardwood lanes.

“It was a bowling alley before, now it’s a bowling centre.

“Bowling is a passion for me. It’s the industry and the people involved in it,” Stevenson said.

But with no lease and a month-to-month rental arrangement, Stevenson is unsure just what’s in store on the Old Orchard site.

Stevenson has been involved in the bowling industry for the past 35 years, having lived through its heyday and now it’s possible swan song.

In the 1990s, Hastings Bowl was coined “The little house that could”  by the Burnaby NOWfor its excellent Youth Bowling Council program.

At the same time, Old Orchard was drawing upwards of 1,600 regular league bowlers.

Today, that number has dwindled down to approximately 440.

“It’s a sad state that the good old Canadian sport is fading away,” he said.

Old Orchard is still actively involved in youth bowling, leagues for the developmentally challenged and the high-average league that has been going strong for the past 34 years.

But it’s mostly seniors now, Stevenson says, who populate the league bowling teams.

“It would be a shame not to have the opportunity for seniors to come out and get some light exercise,” Stevenson said.

Some of the all-time greats, including Paul Kitamura, can still be found at Old Orchard.

Kitamura, a past Canadian champion, now in his early 70s, is one of just three bowlers, along with Stevenson and Chris Jackson of Burnaby, who have not missed a single season at the Wednesday night high-average league.

“We started the league and we’re still hanging in there,” said Stevenson.

With league bowling drawing to a close at the end of April, Old Orchard will be open to public bowling until league’s start up again on Labour Day.

Old Orchard is a 16-lane house, which also offers cosmic bowling on Friday and Saturday nights.

For more information on five-pin bowling in Burnaby, go to www.facebook.com/OldOrchardLanes.

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