Bowling in Kokomo - The Impact of World War II
Bowling was going through a period of rapid growth. Then World War II broke out. What impact did the war have on bowling locally and around the country?
The most obvious impact was to the number of bowlers. Kokomo had 198 teams in the 1939/40 season. They only had 136 in 1943. This represents a 30 percent reduction. Kokomo had 23 men’s leagues in 1940 and only 15 in 1943. The war would "borrow" young bowlers from the local scene.
One prominent bowler, Don Lowry, joined the Navy in 1942. Don was already one of Kokomo’s top bowlers. He was also active in baseball. He had to resign his State Semi-pro Baseball Commissionership when he joined the Navy. Lowry was stationed at Mare Island off the coast of California. He may have been away from Kokomo, but he could not stay away from bowling. Lowry would win the Mare Island Summer League with an average of 188 for 65 games. He also shot a 262 game.
Perhaps the biggest impact to the game was the impact the war had on pinboys. The war created a shortage of pinboys. The Friday morning Stellite-Delco League had to be moved to Saturday mornings due to a lack of pinsetters. Jerry Evans even appealed to high school authorities to grant a leave of absence on patriotic grounds. Evans argued that it would keep up the morale of the defense workers by letting the school boys set the pins. He appealed to the unemployment office. He advertised for girls and 50 year-old men; but no help could be found.
The Bowling Proprietors Association of America even submitted a proposal to the government that prisoners of war be used as pinboys. They saw the war as a significant threat to their business and sport.
"Two-way" bowling alleys were designed and installed and shipped to many military camps and bases. These alleys were only 23 feet long and 29 inches wide. Using smaller balls and shorter pins, opponents set pins for each other from opposite ends of the lane.
The government even set price ceilings for bowling, pool and billiards. This was to ensure that members of the armed forces and war workers were not overcharged for their relaxation and recreation.
The war also forced the cancellation of many tournaments. Gas rationing had a major impact on traveling to events such as bowling tournaments. The ABC Tournament was not held from 1943 to 1945. The Indiana State Tournament was not held in 1945. The State Legion and Shrine Tournaments were also canceled.
Following the war, the bowlers returned. During the peace that followed, even more men and women headed toward the lanes. Bowling’s slight decline would be followed by a growth spurt propelling bowling's popularity to new heights.