Bowling unites a diverse base of participants

‘Everybody gets together’

When John Restivo was 19, he and a friend took a jaunt to Reno, Nevada, won a doubles bowling tournament, and returned home $50,000 richer.

Restivo was an old hand at that point — he’d already been competing as a teen against some of the best bowlers in Brooklyn, New York, his home at the time. He’d taken up the sport as a very young person watching his mother participate in daytime games.

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“I would watch, and as I got a little bit older, she finally got me involved in the league when I was 8 years old, and that’s how I got started. I’ve been bowling now for 54 years,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A love of the sport

At one point, Restivo, who bowled in college for Pace University, had planned to go pro, but he tore a tendon in his ring finger and couldn’t bowl for over a year. He dropped the idea of a professional career, but he never lost his love of the sport. He still bowls several days a week. Now 62 with retirement from an IT career approaching and grown-up children, he’s looking toward competition as an outlet again. The social benefits have kept him returning to the lanes all these years.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

“You’re getting together with friends,” he said. “There are a lot of senior leagues that are usually during the day, so you get to see your friends … You get out and you socialize. It gives you something to look forward to, and participate in, and you interact with other folks even outside of your age — younger folks. I have a lot of friends that are my kids’ age in their 20s and 30s … That’s the beautiful thing about it. It keeps you young, I feel.”

Although most bowlers typically don’t break a sweat, there are physical benefits, he said.

“You’re picking up a weight,” he said. “So, depending on how strong somebody is, they’ll probably use anywhere from a 13- to 15-pound bowling ball, so you’re throwing that weight 30 or 40 times in a couple of hours. It’s not a very aerobic sport, but you’re moving.”

Restivo is on the board of directors of the Greater Atlanta United States Bowling Congress Association. He said the organization’s website, gratlusbc.org is a good place for prospective participants to find a bowling center.

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‘A fun evening out’

Skip George, 60, also has a long association with bowling and an appreciation for its social opportunities. He began the sport as a kid in the junior leagues in Ohio. After a break that began in his junior high years, he came back to it during college at the University of Akron where the student center had a six-lane bowling alley.

He moved to Atlanta in 1985 and began bowling here with a friend.

“He said, ‘Do you want to come with me to bowling one night?’ And one of the teams was looking for subs, and I subbed that night, and, at the end of the evening, they said, ‘Would you like to join our team?’ That was in 1991, and I haven’t looked back since,” he said.

Bowling was a way to socialize away from the bar scene with people who shared a common interest.

“Atlanta was a very social city, anyway. It had a huge bar scene. This was kind of an outlet I had not even considered,” he said. “It was a way to meet people and have a fun evening out and not have to go hit a bar. Everybody was there for the same purpose. They had a love or an interest in the sport of bowling. You made some wonderful, lifelong friends from all walks of life.”

Now, George bowls one evening a week at a center along I-285 — it’s a central location for people traveling from areas like Midtown, Lilburn, and the west side of the city. George’s league is part of the Southern region of International Gay Bowling Organization, which George, who just wrapped a six-year stint as Southern regional director, said has members across the United States, Canada, Australia, and parts of the European Union.

Credit: Mike Tamburrino

Credit: Mike Tamburrino

The organization’s website, igbo.org, he said, is a good source of information and a comprehensive listing of leagues.

Like George, Restivo finds that bowling brings people together. He mentioned a tournament and bowling ball raffles that helped raise thousands of dollars for league members with health issues earlier this year.

“To me, bowling is such a great sport for everybody because you have so many different demographics,” he said. “The CEO can bowl in the same league with somebody who is a waitress. And everybody gets together all the time. It’s a huge family. There’s such huge support.”

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