Women’s Bowling in Kokomo - The Early Years
Women’s bowling in Kokomo dates back to at least the late 1890’s. However, in those early days of bowling, there were few lanes and the men dominated the bowling scene.
Most early bowling establishments had ladies' days where the ladies could bowl undisturbed by the men. Carl Maudlin, manager of the Menig Alleys in 1917, devoted one afternoon per week to the women.
There were even team challenge matches between married and single women. In one of these matches in December 1917, Mrs. Swigert rolled an excellent 508 series at the Menig Alleys.
In the mid-1920’s, when Harry Schneiderman became co-owner and manager of the Recreation Alleys, his wife Lillian frequently practiced there. In 1926, she entered the KBA City Individual match play tournament. In her first match she defeated Jimmie Trayers by a score of 623 to 506.
In "Lefty" Willer’s column on September 30, 1926, Willer noted that Mrs. Schneiderman was one of the best women bowlers in the state. He also pointed out that towns smaller than Kokomo already had women’s league bowling and stated that Kokomo needs a ladies league too. He finished his column by stating "All it takes is for someone to start it...and then try to stop it!"
Willer would be proven right, but only after eight long years.
In the spring of 1934, Sam Phillips and Bud Fridlin started a 10 week mixed league. It was a handicap league and no fouls were called. In those days, there were no electronic foul detection devices and foul judges were used. This special "no foul" rule was intended to encourage more participation by preventing any embarrassment to beginning bowlers. The plans were to start a women’s league the following winter.
In September 1934, Mrs. Helen Bringle announced plans for two women’s leagues, one in the afternoon and the other at night. Recreation manager Sam Phillips allowed the women to practice for free and Mrs. Bringle provided free instructions to the beginning bowlers. The practice event was very successful as 25 women participated. This encouraged Phillips to repeat the offer the following week.
Mrs. Bringle started to identify team captains and assigned bowlers to teams. She also found team sponsors. Three teams were formed for the afternoon league and six for the evening league. Both leagues bowled on Wednesday and each team consisted of three women. Team names and members for these initial two leagues are shown below.
Larue Beauty Shop
Mrs. Martha McFatridge (Captain)
Mrs. Mildred Cardwell
Mrs. Catherine Dutton
Mrs. Marguerite Harland (Captain)
Mrs. Mary Keller
Miss Lottie Perkins
Band Box Cleaner
Mrs. Vera Coffel (Captain)
Mrs. Isabelle Clifford
Miss Mary Ellen Coffel
Molden Boot Shop
Miss Elizabeth Wolf (Captain)
Mrs. Doris Wooldridge
Miss Elizabeth Jane Schultz
Mrs. Mary Smith (Captain)
Miss Mildred Stratford
Miss Lois Elvin
Furnas Ice Cream
Mrs. Eileen Bova (Captain)
Miss Alice Bauer
Mrs. Mabelle Hurstel
LaMode Dress Shoppe
Miss Pauline Todd (Captain)
Miss Mary Louthan
Miss Pearl Cornthwaite
Miss Helen Diamond (Captain)
Mrs. Oma Bertram
Mrs. Velma Grist
Gerhart’s Drug Store
Mrs. Betty Hanley (Captain)
Miss Mary Leffert
Mrs. Helen Bringle
The first afternoon league session bowled for averages only. You cannot do much with only three teams. They tried hard but could not come up with a fourth team. Carol Meck rolled the high game with a 169. Helen Bringle rolled a 409 for high series.
In the evening league, Gerhart’s Drug Store won all 3 games over Furnas Ice Cream by a total of 908 to 791. Dietzen’s Bakery shutout LaMode Dress Shoppe by a total of 854 to 786. Grocers’ Dairy won 2 games from Molden’s Boot Shop but Molden’s had the highest pinfall 875 to 863.
Helen Bringle was also high for the evening league when she rolled a 410 series.
In the second week of the evening league, Eileen Bova rolled a 179 game for a new high.
By the fourth week, only two teams showed up for the afternoon league. The evening league continued to thrive. Helen Bringle upped the high series to 438 and rolled a 176 game also.
Two weeks later, and only six weeks into the season, the afternoon league was changed to an afternoon club. This was the result of the low turnout and irregular attendance.
One week later, November 7, 1934, the regulars from the afternoon league joined the evening league. Each team roster was increased to four and the league starting time was pulled ahead to 5:30 PM. Team standings were carried over even though new bowlers were added to each team. That same night, Emma Gumpp rolled a 191 game and 455 series to set new highs. The women also announced plans for a women’s tournament to start the following week.
Over 20 bowlers signed up to compete in the three-game match-play elimination tournament. Katherine Schwenger defeated Minnie Harper for the title even after giving Harper 52 pins handicap a game. Schwenger won a silver cup trophy for her efforts.
The ladies’ skills and confidence quickly developed to the point that they began to travel and compete in matches against other towns such as Marion and Lafayette. They discovered that they were competitive with the surrounding areas and would win some of their matches.
The Grocers’ Dairy team went on to win the league championship by two games over LaMode Dress Shoppe. LaMode shot the best team series for the season with their 1701 score. High team game was won by Grocers’ Dairy with their 627. High individual series was won by Katherine Schwenger with 536. Emma Gumpp was second with 502. These two bowlers tied for high game with 204, not bad for their first season! Mary Keller won high average with 139.
On September 15, 1935, the ladies met to organize a league organization and form six teams of five women for the 1935/36 season. The league started on Friday, September 27, 1935. The Kokomo Ladies Bowling League was formed.
The Kokomo Women’s Bowling Association was formed on October 22, 1935. Laura Alexander from WIBC came to Kokomo to install the first officers of the KWBA. The ceremony took place downstairs at the Recreation Alleys. Installed were Nell LaRue as president, Gwen Winch as secretary and Lois Elvin as sergeant-at-arms.
Today, the KWBA is one of the most vibrant and active in the state. We are lucky to have such a group here in Kokomo.