PORTLAND — The bowling thunder from local lanes has been heard, and the professionals are responding.
Brian Corcoran, president of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, confirmed Friday that the Professional Bowlers Association tour will make its first Maine stop next February, with events and competition slated for Spare Time Portland on Riverside Street, Bayside Bowl on Alder Street, and the new Easy Day on Broadway in South Portland.
Corcoran said a week’s worth of events are being planned, with the final competition to be aired on ESPN from Bayside Bowl.
Spare Time, which opened as Yankee Lanes in 1990, may be the site of preliminary matches, he said. Easy Day could be used for pro-am events designed to bring the public, sponsors and professionals together.
PBA Commissioner Tom Clark last week said the league, with some encouragement from Corcoran, has noticed bowling is a popular sport and pastime in the area.
“We want to make it happen,” Clark said. “When you find a place on the upswing, it is exciting and something we want to shed light on.”
Corcoran said the league events could require as much as a $250,000 commitment, although much of that can come from the national sponsorship the tour already enjoys.
It could also fill area hotel rooms for a week, since bowlers are joined by sponsors, support staff and ESPN crews, he said.
Spare Time manager Scott Bodlovick and Bayside Bowl manager Charlie Mitchell said they are excited about the prospect of the PBA coming to greater Portland, which came together over the last few weeks and culminated when Clark toured the three bowling centers last week with PBA Deputy Commissioner Kirk von Krueger.
Corcoran, whose Portland agency handles promotion for the PBA, the Portland Pirates, and TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10k, said bowling interest is growing in the Northeast, and Portland is seeing new and younger bowlers.
“It comes back to people, passion and places, there is a very healthy bowling community,” the Old Orchard Beach native said.
Bodlovick said the tour may arrive just before Spare Time – which with 32 lanes, office space, and locker rooms is well suited to preliminary matches – undergoes a face lift that will put it more in tune with the current bowling center trend of fewer lanes and more food and other activities.
“You want to create that buzz for people who want to bowl,” he said.
The prospect of seeing the pros in person excited bowlers Debbie Gillies and Sherri Matzke as they finished their games Monday at Spare Time.
Matzke, a Windham resident, said she grew up bowling with her family on the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and has been bowling at Spare Time for about 15 years. She has also traveled to Reno, Nev., to watch women’s pro tournaments.
“We just go to have fun,” she said. “It keeps me young.”
In a family of athletes, with a husband and two sons who play ice hockey, South Portland resident Gillies said she sees more children enjoying a sport where she can stand out.
She opened her league season by rolling a 636 score over three games, but admitted consistency can be a challenge.
“But it is the only sport where I am better than my husband,” she said.
Mitchell, who has managed Bayside since it opened in the former Skillful Vending showroom on Alder Street four years ago, said he began bowling in leagues at Spare Time before moving the scene to the peninsula.
“We have created quite a little bowling culture here,” he said Monday about the center owned by state Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland.
Leagues, food and music are the draw at Bayside, Mitchell said. The center found its niche with white-collar workers and nearby residents who can walk in for a night of fun.
“Most are coming to bowling new,” he said. They’re buying shoes and balls, and joining nearly 100 league teams that are competing this year.
Westbrook resident Sara Deane, who began bowling about about 2 1/2 years ago, said she likes the vibe at Bayside, and one element of the sport brings her back.
“You don’t get many activities where you get to knock stuff over,” Deane said.
Windham resident Sherri Matzke knocks out a strike Monday at Spare Time Portland on Monday. A bowler since childhood. Matzke said she is thrilled to learn the PBA will stop in Portland early next year.
“We have created quite a little bowling culture here,” Bayside Bowl manager Charlie Mitchell said Monday about the 4-year-old bowling center on Alder Street in Portland. Bayside Bowl will get national exposure next year as the site of a PBA final event on ESPN.
Spare Time Portland manager Scott Bodlovick said the bowling center has the lanes, office space, and locker rooms for preliminary PBA competitions, and a tour appearance will bring more credibility to the area.