Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Shorty Method

In 1978 I joined a junior high school bowling league at the Lake City Bowl. I'd never bowled before, and my only memories of bowling alleys at that time were from my early childhood when my parents occasionally rolled a few. I never actually saw them on the lanes, but I remember being locked up in the “day care center” at the alley they chose. I distinctly remember being struck in the forehead by a Fisher-Price school bus that some kid was swinging by a string. Now that I’ve spent some time in bowling alleys as an adult, I can’t imagine ever leaving my kids in the care of anyone who would be working at such a place. For that matter, I find it hard to believe that people would bring their kids to a place where smoking and drinking are only by a narrow margin secondary to the main activity. Times were different then, of course. I mean, mom’s forearm served as an airbag/safety belt, and kids even rode bikes without helmets.

Before the Lake City Bowl would allow us amateurs to even pick up a ball, the manager, Shorty, gave us lessons on everything we needed to know to be responsible and accurate bowlers. Shorty was, well, short. He was wearing, of all things, a dark blue bowling shirt that was devoid of any markings. It didn’t even say “Shorty” over the left breast. Still, it was unavoidably a bowling shirt, and as such, it served to give emphasis to the fact that Shorty had a protuberant stomach and fairly spindly arms (his right being slightly less spindly than his left). He also sported a flat top haircut and Buddy Holly glasses. He could have been the nerdy guy in “American Graffiti”. These days he would be called “retro”, but back then he was just one of those old guys who was not hip to “Saturday Night Fever” and its impact on the world of fashion (even in Lake City, which was decidedly an anti-Bee Gees neighborhood, favoring Lynard Skynard, Led Zepplin, and the like).

Shorty started out with the basics: no food, drinks, or chewing gum in the bowling area. This included anywhere beyond the carpeted area of the lobby before one descended to where the actual bowling took place. Of course we noticed that the adult bowlers were drinking beers, eating plates of fries, and smoking right there at their score keeping tables, but what could we do by way of protest? After all, this was twenty years before famous teen bowlers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold caused all of that nasty business in Colorado. Besides, there was Shorty’s backup, a slightly hunchbacked woman with a huge country music pile of white hair. She seemed to not only hate us, but to have a preternatural ability to anticipate any breech of the “Law of Shorty” that we might be in the act of considering.

This is not to say that Shorty or his rules were unreasonable. Everything was explained to us in simple terms as to how adherence to the Shorty code was beneficial to everyone. Food, gum, and drinks could be spilled on the approach, thus causing a bowler’s shoes to stick and ruining his delivery.

We all knew that most of these kinds of rules were intended to keep Shorty and his staff from having to clean up after us, but the way he explained things made so much sense that no one ever seemed to have broken the rules.

The first lessons that Shorty taught us were the ones that had to do with bowling courtesy.

The first rule was to pay attention and know when it was your turn to bowl. No one should have to wait for you because you are eating nachos or taking a pee or talking to your buddies.

Next, do not step up onto the approach when someone else is about to bowl as this could distract him or her during delivery. Wait until the other bowler has released the ball before picking up your ball and taking starting position (also known as a bowler’s “address”).

another rule had to do with picking up the ball—never pick up a bowling ball by the finger holes. Doing so can lead to injury. Your fingers should never support the weight of the ball. Instead, pick the ball up with both hands, then cradle it in the crook of your left arm while you insert the fingers of your right hand into the holes (if you are right handed).

Then Shorty taught us the four step approach, the following description of which I copied from an article by Robert (Bob) Strickland on Complete BowlingIndex .

The FOUR-STEP DELIVERY is the SIMPLEST and the easiest to TROUBLESHOOT. The reason is that the ball is pushed out right along with the first step. The ball is neither carried for a step as in the five-step delivery, nor moved before the first step, as in the three-step delivery. During the four-step delivery, there is something for the upper body to do in coordination with each step taken.

SETUP - Take your setup with your feet three to four inches apart and neither foot leading. Point your feet in the direction of your target. Do not lean forward; be generally upright, with your legs straight, your knees not bent, but not locked either. To help you relax your bowling hand and arm, hold the major portion of your ball's weight in your BALANCE HAND -- the hand opposite your bowling hand.

FIRST STEP - Move your ball at the same instant as you pick up your foot on the same side as your bowling arm--i.e. your SWINGSIDE FOOT. Push your ball straight ahead -- never down! Think of it as placing your ball on an imaginary table the same height as the ball was held in the setup. As your ball reaches the limit of your reach with both arms, your SWINGSIDE HEEL should just be making contact with the approach.

SECOND STEP - Let your ball simply FALL from the arms-extended into a PENDULUM SWING. Continue to keep your body upright; do not allow your head to follow your ball down into the swing! To help keep your shoulders level and squared with your swing, let your BALANCE ARM move to a position out, down, and back -- approximately 90 degrees to the plane of the swing -- at the same speed as your downswing. Your SLIDING HEEL should make contact with the approach as your ball is at the lowest point in the backswing.

THIRD STEP - Let your ball move up to the top of your backswing by its own force. Get gravity to work for you; do not use the muscles of your upper arm and back to hoist it any higher. If you do hoist your ball, your body will twist, your bowling shoulder will be pulled back, and your ball will become late relative to your footwork. As your ball reaches the top of your backswing, Your SWINGSIDE HEEL should make contact with the approach.

FOURTH STEP - Take your last step very slowly on your SLIDING SOLE, bending your swingside knee very deeply. This will give you a long slide and ample time to achieve a superior body position for your release. Keep your upper body upright and your balance arm in the position it attained during your second step. You will enjoy better leverage, less fatigue, and more consistently placed shots.

The last thing that Shorty taught was to leave the lane in the same or better condition than when you arrive. No trash should be left behind, and all the balls should be returned, as should the grease pencils and scorecard transparencies.

The Shorty Method emphasized personal responsibility and discipline. Not bad things to have.

Almost thirty years after bowling in the junior high league at Lake City Bowl, I found myself in a bowling tournament in Hsinchu City, Taiwan. My team members were Ian and Ben from New Zealand, Patrick and Mike D. from Canada, and me from the States. When we first started bowling, no one really knew how to do it correctly. I was usually the highest scorer. Then I started teaching them the Shorty Method, and soon their scores got better and better. We ended up winning the tournament. It was a long road from the Lake City Bowl to winning that tournament, and I have to thank Shorty--where ever he is--for the lessons he taught me and a lot of others like me.

The below film clip is NOT a good example of the Shorty Method.

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