A surprising change has occurred in the Young American Bowlers Alliance in the Augusta area.
The association has grown from 40-60 members in 2000 to 130 bowlers who had signed up on this year's opening day registration in early September.
This change is surprising in that it is unprecedented compared to past YABA leagues, which have been held at Gordon Lanes bowling center.
Aside from being the only center with the newest state of the art pinsetters, general manager Tim Stancil has committed himself to providing the younger bowlers with the same perfect lane conditions given to those in adult leagues.
"My philosophy is that you treat the kids just like adults. You give them fresh, clean conditions. I don't let them come in and bowl on whatever is left," Stancil said. "And I can tell you that that is not the way they are treated at other places. We've inherited some bowlers because they can come in and know that they don't have to settle when it comes to lane conditions."
In recent years, growing concerns over national security issues have forced Fort Gordon to tighten security controls at access gates, causing visitors to endure vehicle searches and long waiting periods before gaining entrance.
And while this is a necessary step in this day and age, the administration at Gordon Lanes knows they have lost some customers because they simply don't like going through this process.
"That front gate definitely keeps some of the bowlers from coming in," assistant manager Jim Neal said. "People don't realize that you can get an MWR decal, and it makes it so much easier to come bowl."
Management has combated this problem through more advertising, evidenced by the fact that the number of league bowlers has grown rapidly in the past few years.
The YABA schedule runs from September until the end of May, which ends up providing 32 weeks of bowling when you consider off weeks due to holidays. YABA bowlers range in age from 3-21, the youngest of which bowl on lanes with bumpers. The weekly cost of the program, which is held every Saturday morning, runs from $3 to $7 depending on the age of the child.
At the heart of the program is current Gordon Lanes YABA director Marie Withers, who not only volunteers every Saturday morning, but sells 50/50 raffle tickets during bowling on weeknights to support the program's young bowlers. YABA has even provided some individuals with scholarships because of their commitment to the program. Withers has had to dedicate even more time this year, breaking up the group of 130 children into two different shifts to accompany the growing numbers.
"I don't get paid, but someone's got to be here for the kids,'' Withers said. "I look forward to every Saturday morning. I'm not turning down any kids."
Success has been felt in other areas of youth bowling at Gordon Lanes in the past couple of years.
In addition to the YABA league, Stancil and Neal have instituted a summer program aimed at helping to develop the youth bowlers and giving them a positive activity to enjoy. This league runs for 10 weeks at a cost of $9.50 per week, and at the end of the program, each child receives his or her own personal bowling ball.
Ralph McLain, a former president and hall of fame member of the Augusta Bowling Association, has made a big push recently to get the young bowlers recognized locally.
"Bowling has been so good to me during my career, and I want these kids to have the same opportunity," McLain said. "It's all about recognition. When they see their names in the newspaper, there's nothing like it."
JUNIOR GOLF: Taylor Ramsey, of Martinez, shot 77-74 this past weekend to win her age group at a Plantation Junior Golf Tour event at Mystery Valley Golf Club in Lithonia, Ga.
Her younger sister Ashlan finished third after shooting 85-79.
Last weekend's win was Taylor's second of the season on the Plantation Junior Golf Tour.
Her first came Sept. 2-5 in Murrells Inlet, S.C., where she shot 78-77-82 to beat Ashlan, who shot 83-80-84 to finish in second place.
Taylor, 11, also recently claimed the junior women's club championship at West Lake Country Club. She shot 81-78 from the same tees as the adults, besting champion Jan Cross, who shot 82-83.