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The jury is still out on whether midnight basketball can get kids off the streets. But weekend-in, weekend-out over the last several years, Bob Hoeflich has offered proof beyond reasonable doubt that midnight bowling gets moms and dads off the couch.

In 1990, Hoeflich began building the Moonlight Mixed Doubles Tournament into a much-anticipated fixture on the social calendar at the Bowl America-Shirley lanes in Alexandria. Every Saturday night around 10 p.m., Hoeflich turned out the house lights and ordered the boy/girl pairings to get things rolling. The darkness that brings Hoeflich’s tourney its name probably hampers the scores, but it also does wonders to enhance the mood and physical appeal of the participants. Until the wee hours, Hoeflich strolls around the alley, microphone in hand, and plays referee, play-by-play man, carnival barker, and crude cupid to the bowlers as they smoke, eat, and drink their way through five-game sets. Top score wins $100, but most entrants don’t seem as concerned about the scoring as,

well, scoring.

As many as 80 teams a week now enter the Moonlight, but the nocturnal tilt’s existence stands threatened. Two weeks ago, Hoeflich retired from a post with the Department of the Navy he’d held for 30 years. And this Saturday, the sun sets on his Moonlighting gig, too. Just like the good government retiree he is, Hoeflich is moving to Florida next week with a sweetheart he met at the bowling alley. Hoeflich doubts the Navy even knows he’s gone yet, but the Bowl America pinheads didn’t leave him in the dark about how much he means to them.

“He can’t be replaced. I mean, he made this whole thing fun,” moaned Sheila Dyer, a self-described hard liver and habitual Moonlighter.

Dyer and her fellow Moonlighters gushed about Hoeflich throughout the farewell party they threw for him during last weekend’s tourney. She brought a huge chocolate cake, inscribed with “Don’t Step On My @#$%* Cord!” in honor of the weekly warning Hoeflich gives to bowlers about his microphone wire just before he turns out the lights.

“Bowlers sure love cake,” Hoeflich said, suggesting a relationship between calories and pinmanship.

Dyer brought her young daughter to the Moonlight, as she does every week. Like so many of the entrants, she’s a single mother.

“We take a nap together for two hours every Saturday afternoon, just so we can come here,” says Mom while hugging her wide-awake youngster.

Several years ago, when attendance at the tournament waned, Hoeflich put out word through the alley’s regular leagues that single-parent bowlers were more than welcome to bring their kids to his Saturday-night soirees, and that he’d provide a safe, cozy place for the youngsters.

“I wanted to build the Moonlight tournaments up,” says Hoeflich. “I knew if I could get single women, the men would follow. So I told all the single mothers that came in during the week that we’d all do the baby-sitting for them. So when it gets late here, we just put ’em all to sleep in sleeping bags underneath the tables.”

And although drinking and smoking and cussing are as much a part of the Moonlight atmosphere as the sound of struck pins, an altogether wholesome, familial ambience also prevails. Dyer credits Hoeflich for that vibe, and says he had motives beyond the success of his tournament for recruiting distaff singles. Not only is he a lovable lech—Dyer calls him “Dom” for “Dirty Old Man”—but Hoeflich also knows firsthand that Saturday-night fun doesn’t come so often or so easily for single parents. He had to give up bowling while raising four children by himself in Annandale, and only got back into the sport after his youngest boy went off to college, when he entered a league at Bowl America and shortly thereafter took a part-time job there. He fell for a girl who worked part-time behind the front counter, who is now packing up and relocating to Pensacola with him.

Mike Warner brought his mom, dad, sister, and brother-in-law to say goodbye to Hoeflich, though they all probably would have shown up for the Moonlight tourney anyway. Warner is Dyer’s regular Saturday-night playing partner and one of the most able players in the house. He’s fond of mooning his competitors to keep them off balance, so the pair usually scores high enough to finish in the money. When he bowls, Warner always wears a gold ring commemorating the day he rolled a three-game set of more than 800. That’s a nice set. Warner got another ring for rolling a perfect 300 game three years ago—he has also on two different occasions notched 299, the bowling equivalent of losing a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth—but he leaves that jewelry at home. With his second wife.

“Bowling killed my first marriage,” Warner says. “We had a kid, and my first wife started trying to get me to cut back from bowling seven nights a week. That wasn’t going to happen. My wife now, I don’t think it bothers her that I come here and play with Sheila. It’s all for fun here on Saturday nights.”

They say bowlers wouldn’t know a good time if it knocked ’em down, but Moonlight’s got everything except pagan sacrifices.

Warner and Dyer don’t bowl just for the laughs. Neither will be attending Hoeflich’s final Moonlight this Saturday, because the Virginia state championship is being held this weekend. They hate to see him go, but not enough to pass up a bowling tournament.

Many other regulars will also enter the state tourney, so attendance on Hoeflich’s last night as host should be paltry. That’s why they threw the going-away party for him a week early.

As he cleaned up his score sheets for the night and looked forward to that final evening, Hoeflich admitted he’ll miss his Saturday-night companions at least as much as they’ll miss him. He also confessed to worrying about the future of the tournament he made so successful. Successors are being groomed, and the current plan calls for the show to go on, but Hoeflich and most Moonlight regulars are skeptical.

He has no doubts, however, about how he’ll kill his spare time when he gets to Florida. “I’ll be bowling,” he says, adding that he’s already signed up for one league in Pensacola and will look for others after the move. And if he has his way, some of those pins will be falling down in the middle of the night.—Dave McKenna