Meet the Duckpin Bowling League With 65-Year-Old Jewish Roots

Members of the Tuesday Night Bowling League (Richard Fishkin)

For over 65 years, the Tuesday Night Bowling League has been meeting up regularly to play duckpin bowling matches.

Having started out as the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Brotherhood Bowling League, the team has gone through many iterations over the years, becoming the Brotherhood Bowling League as it started accepting members from other congregations, then the Wednesday Night Bowling League as women started joining. A change in the day of the week the league meets led them to its current name.

But as duckpin bowling loses popularity, the league’s future remains uncertain. The league plays at the Bowlero in Pikesville, and 2024 may be the venue’s last year offering duckpin bowling. Still, the 11 current members, ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s, continue to meet up regularly and bowl.

While casual bowlers may be more familiar with ten-pin bowling, duckpin bowling differs from the standard due to the equipment used for it. The pins in question are shorter and rounder, and the bowling balls and gutters are smaller.

But as ten-pin bowling has become the standard, it has become harder and harder to find places for duckpin games. According to a 2017 Baltimore Sun article, recent years have seen a 90% decrease in professional duckpin bowlers. And while the article alludes to a contemporary movement to revive the sport, this seems to have achieved fairly little success as of 2024.

“At one time, duckpin bowling was huge in Baltimore. There used to be a duckpin bowling alley downtown with 100 lanes,” said Harry Macks, one of the founding members of the Tuesday Night Bowling League. “But now, people just don’t bowl duckpin anymore.”

Macks, 86, has been an on-and-off member of the league since its inception. He has also been the league’s treasurer for the past 20 years following the death of the last treasurer. He is the longest-lasting member of the league, though some of the team’s other members have been part of it for over 20 years.

Macks recalled that synagogue bowling leagues were once far more common than they are today.

“When I was younger, there were bowling leagues all over this area. Practically every synagogue had a bowling league,” he said. “Originally, you had to be a member of the Baltimore Hebrew Brotherhood to bowl, but we opened it up to everyone because it became harder to find members.”

The league peaked in size at 78 members. But as bowling alleys in the area have closed, still-open alleys have gotten rid of duckpin bowling and members have moved on, its population has shrunk in recent years. The current league consists of eight men and three women, with the majority being Jewish, though not all are.

“The sad thing is that we started out quite large,” said Richard Fishkin, league member and scorekeeper. Fishkin, 81, moved to Baltimore in 1967 and estimates that he first joined the league during the first five years he lived in the area. “Over the past couple of years, the number of bowlers has dwindled,” he added.

When the league meets to bowl, their meetings are often casual and more social in nature. Many of its members have forged long-lasting friendships over their many years of involvement with the team, so people join the games to talk with other members just as often as they join to test their bowling skills. They have also met to celebrate Jewish holidays together in the past.

Fishkin added that nearly every time he attends a bowling session, one of the members reminds him of someone they bowled with in the past or a particularly memorable game.

The Tuesday Night Bowling League had a scare a few months ago when the Pikesville Bowlero announced that they were planning to sunset their duckpin bowling offerings. This was during a time when the league was not regularly meeting. However, the bowling alley soon decided against destroying the duckpin alleys, so the league began to meet up and bowl again while the lanes remained in place. They plan to do so until they no longer have any place to bowl duckpin.

“We’ve made a lot of friendships in bowling. It’s just a nice group of guys and women, and we enjoy getting out once a week and having a good time together,” Macks said.

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