The Professional Bowling Association has a new home this fall, and it will be located just outside D.C.
Bowlers from across the globe will gather in Centreville to start this season’s PBA League later this month and complete some of the events of its touring season, which was cut short at the end of March.
The PBA had a few televised events over the summer, but Sept. 26 marks the return of the league. Bowlers from across the globe will live at a nearby hotel in Virginia for several weeks and compete in the pandemic-altered version of team bowling at Bowlero Centreville.
“Our headquarters are in Virginia,” says PBA CEO Colie Edison. “We have been able to operate bowling centers in states that let us open up. The center we’re in, no one will be coming into the center from the public the two weeks we have our telecasts.”
Typically, the PBA hosts league events in Portland, Maine. It’s a popular attraction, but without live fans, there wasn’t much sense in hosting any events there.
That’s when Centreville came in.
“The fans [in Maine], everyone agrees they’re the greatest fans in the PBA,” says PBA commissioner Tom Clark. “No one can remember more crazy, into-it fans. That’s why we started the PBA League in Maine. It became a destination event. We’re not able to have fans there because of a limited number of people in the building, so it made sense for the PBA to move to Virginia.”
No fans will be allowed in to watch the PBA League live, and no one will be able to use the bowling lanes while the league is competing. The PBA also plans to complete the rest of their season from March on, including the World Series of Bowling and the PBA playoffs.
This year’s league brings back the defending champion Portland Lumberjacks and has 12 teams competing over a two-week period, televised on FS1. Bowling was on the short list for the since-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but was ultimately left out.
“I think everybody in the PBA was proud to say we have been continuing to look for opportunities to come back,” says Clark. “Keep the sport rolling along. The PBA was on a strong boost of momentum for the last couple of years.”
Bowlers will be required to wear their masks at all times until their turn, and they won’t be allowed to make physical contact with teammates. The PBA is making sure no one will enter the facility and the athletes have a hotel to stay at, but it is up to individual athletes to self-report symptoms and get their own testing.
The league held a few events in Jupiter, Florida, over the summer as a test-run for their Virginia-based return, which gave some of the bowlers a feel for their new world.
“It’s very exciting with the league coming up,” says pro bowler Kyle Troup. “I’ve gotten to get my feet wet in competition the last few months, but it was a very limited field. Now we have four new teams, two all-women’s teams, and now it’s getting back to work.”
The league believes that because bowling is individualized, even at the team level, bowlers will be able to social distance and remain safe despite being confined indoors. According to Clark, every international bowler eligible to compete in the league and for the upcoming PBA playoffs has opted to return, and the PBA got a special waiver from the United States to bring them to Centreville.
“It’s the perfect sport for social distancing,” says Edison, “There’s no physical contact. We’re not sharing balls. We’re sanitizing lanes multiples times a day. Social distancing is very easy with your own lane and your own area. There’s only one individual bowler at a time. It’s a sport you can practice [with] social distancing.”
Troup plays for the Lumberjacks and was with the team last season when they won the title. He says the time away from bowling helped him find new hobbies, such as fishing.
Getting back to the lanes over the summer, though, was important for him and the rest of the PBA bowlers to get into a rhythm in time for Virginia, and to begin the quest for the Elias Cup.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen in the summer,” says Troup. “I tried to stay prepared as much as I could, to be ready to compete. It was a great opportunity for the PBA and I think we did a great job with that.”