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Background & Basics

The American style of bowling or 10-pin bowling derived from the British sport of lawn bowling. Governed by the American Bowling Conference’s (ABC) rules, 10-pin bowling has also become popular among blind and visually impaired individuals. In fact the first national tournament for blind bowlers was held in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 1947. It’s estimated that nearly 1,800 bowlers belong to the American Blind Bowlers Association (ABBA). Although blind bowlers abide by the ABC rules, ABBA sanctions the tournaments, acts as a communications conduit, and oversees league play.

In 10-pin bowling the 10’ wood pins are arranged in an equilateral triangle at the end of a 60-foot urethane coated lane. Gutters much like the rain gutters on the roof of a house extend for the length of the lane on each side. The object of the game is to roll a ball down the 36-inch wide lane and knock down all 10 pins at the end. To add some difficulty, there is a foul line at the start of the lane which cannot be crossed when throwing. Additional difficulty arises when the lanes are freshly oiled to induce sliding before the ball actually rolls. It acts similar to a patch of ice on a wintery road.

Bowling balls are approximately 9 inches in diameter and way between six and 16 pounds. Holes for the thumb, first finger and second finger are drilled into the hard, usually urethane balls. A bowler usually takes a 3-4 step approach and swings his arm in a pendulum motion as he releases the ball. Whichever hand the bowler uses, that is the side of the pin triangle he wants to hit. Hitting the head pin or the 1 pin usually results in knocking down the middle pins while all of the other pins stay. A good hit is just behind the head pin on the bowler’s dominant side.

Each game consists of ten “frames” which each allow for two throws. Each pin knocked down is worth one point. A “strike” is when you get all 10 pins on the first ball of the frame. For every strike you get 10 points plus the score from your next two balls. A “spare” means you hit all 10 pins using both balls of a frame. After a spare you get 10 points plus the score of your next ball. However, if you get less than 10 pins on the two balls in the frame then you just get the number you knocked down and no additional points. For each frame you begin with 10 pins regardless of the previous frame .It works out that a perfect game is 300 points. An average sighted and partially sighted bowler bowls in the mid to upper 100’s while a totally blind bowler can range from 30 to 100.

Leagues & Competition

Although bowling accommodates single players, most leagues are designed with team competition in mind. There are currently six blind bowlers leagues in Western Pennsylvania. Leagues exist in Erie, Greensburg, and Houston. There are three in the Greater Pittsburgh area. Generally leagues bowl three games once a week for 28-32 weeks. The season is broken into two 14-16 week halves. Many leagues give awards or money prizes to the Most Improved Bowler, the bowler with the highest average, and the winning teams for each half. Most blind bowler leagues welcome partially and fully sighted bowlers.

Tournaments are organized around the country for blind bowler participants. Western Pennsylvania hosts two tournaments annually: one in Erie every October and the other near Pittsburgh at the end of February. The Keystone will be held February 22-24 at Miracle Lanes in Monroeville. These tournaments usually allow for singles, doubles, and quads to compete. In singles competition, bowlers compete against one-another according to their visual status. More than 100 teams compete in the ABBA National Tournament.


The key to bowling a good game is keeping the ball on the lane and out of the gutter. Sighted individuals can use their vision to place the ball on the lane while visually impaired and blind bowlers need a constant guide to orient them to the position of the lane and the gutters. An aluminum rail approximately hip height is placed in-line with the left gutter to assure the blind bowler is facing the pins straight-on. By sliding a hand along the rail, the bowler can even include a 2-3 step approach .Like all bowlers, blind bowlers also vary in their approach and throwing style. Seasoned bowlers can make the slightest adjustments in their placement and consistently pick up the spare. There are even some long-time blind bowlers who can tell what pins are still standing by the sound of the balls impact.

For the other 99% of the blind bowlers who do not share this gift, sighted spotters are necessary. Blind bowlers become familiar with the number and location of each pin so when the spotter tells them which pins are still standing they know where to aim. Spotters are also useful to tell when a ball is stuck or if the pins need to be reset. Many spotters bowl right along with the blind bowlers. The nature of the activity promotes social and competitive interaction among blind, visually impaired, and sighted bowlers.




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