Entry 2

The camp polo shirts offered for sale

Mom is improving faster than I am. I’m sure of it.

The coaches keep telling her how beautiful her delivery is, how perfect. “Great, Dotty!” they exclaim.

Me, they call away to a lane by myself. “Leave your ball behind,” they say. “We need to work on something.” It’s clear that they’re backing up a step for me, taking it to a level slightly lower than the one everyone else is working at.

But eventually I catch on. Everyone seems to. It’s the coaches—they never let anyone lose hope. All these teen-agers, and I never saw a sour, discouraged look all day today. Weird.

The coaches make us all think we have tremendous potential as bowlers, if we just get a handle on this little adjustment or that tiny detail. It’s a gift, really. It’s their gift, and it’s the gift of the bowling god Dick Ritger.

To be perfectly honest, I never heard of the man before I signed up for this camp. I was never a follower of professional bowling, and about the only pro whose name I could have recognized would have been the recently departed, great, bespectacled Earl Anthony.

I have of course now learned of Dick’s many pro titles and his election to the Top 20 Bowlers of the 20th Century. But none of that means a damn thing to me. The man is a teacher’s teacher, and that is the thing I worship in him. I have taught for 20 years, and before that I was a student for more than 20 years. I know good teaching, and this guy is tops.

He’s so soft-spoken he needs a mike to reach a room of 60 people. He has a tiny build, and you’d never notice him in a crowd of people. If you pointed him out and told someone he was one of the best athletes of the 20th century, they’d never believe you. But he is exactly that, and exactly what we all seem to need. The guy has developed a fabulous program that lets a dozen coaches teach 60 students of amazingly different skill levels. Not only do we all seem to be learning something, but we’re all having fun. Why can’t I do that in my Victorian literature class?

We spent the better part of the morning on our knees, rolling the ball to each other over and over, trying to reach the perfect point of release for the ball. Coaches rotated through constantly, giving us tips. Eventually I felt as if I were doing it right.

Then we worked on our Free Pendulum Swing. I knew this was a problem for me, as Dick had noted yesterday on my Individual Bowling Chart that my swing was controlled. Any illusion I had that control might be a good thing had been shattered this morning, as he explained in the morning meeting that a controlled swing was one that was too slow, one in which one was forcing the ball instead of allowing it to swing freely from the shoulder.

We drilled over and over, with and without the ball, to learn to master the balance needed for the Free Pendulum Swing. I struggled with the Pushaway Drill. I faltered in the Balance Drill. I kept remembering The Karate Kid, where the kid learns his karate moves by cleaning the sensei’s car, moving his arms in just the right way: “Wax on, wax off.” His body eventually memorizes the right ways to move. Would it happen to me?

By late afternoon, we were line-dancing around the lanes, in groups of six, to learn the proper rhythm for our approach (“short, short, aaaand balance”). Just as we were beginning to despair of ever getting to bowl, actually bowl, they took pity on us. We were allowed to do the whole thing together, including rolling the ball down the alley. We had no pins at the other end to distract us, and we had to do a practice swing first, before we could actually try our real approach, but it did feel like bowling at last.

Relaxation exercises at the end of the day

And, sure enough, I felt like I was bowling better. I knew my swing had improved. My release was better. I was balanced. I wasn’t as good as Mom; I could tell that. But she does have 40 years of experience on me.

I wonder how I’d do with pins?