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Florida Senior Stars let good times roll

By PHIL GULICK

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


What do you get when you put 125 senior men in the same league?

Ten thousand excuses why they don't average what they used to.

"That's what we call a "senior moment,' " L.A. "Tubby" Walker, 74, of Clearwater, said after slicing a ball into the channel.

Walker sailed the seven seas on Merchant Marine gasoline tankers during World War II. He might exemplify the caliber of men in the Florida Senior Stars Traveling Men's League -- friendly, outspoken and totally without hang-ups.

Every Friday morning, this company of men musters at a mid-county center to punish the pins and share the fun and camaraderie. War stories are ancient history, and the only mention of combat comes over who's buying the next coffee round. The gathering has all the exuberance of a military roll call, without the loud-mouthed sergeant, uniforms or fear of facing a shooting enemy. These men, with 1,000 years of collective experiences, feel no pressure to roll a 300 game, don't kick the ball returns and don't cuss their frequent channel balls. One might throw up his hands in disgust over a misfire or stalk grimly off the approach. But their teammates tap a hand, offer an encouraging word that brings back smiles, and all is right.

"This is the most fun league I've ever bowled in," said St. Petersburg's Lenny Rickard, 68.

The first, high-lofted practice balls lobbed down the lanes echo like an artillery barrage because worn, aging bodies don't bend easily that early. "Heck, it took me four minutes to put my pants on this morning," chuckled Jack Nursey, 82, a retired jeweler with a 300 game in his portfolio.

Getting the ball down the lanes is the least of their worries. Some of their body parts aren't original, cobbled together with plastic knees and hips, metallic plates and pins and assorted other hardware. Some carry fragments of far-flung wars in their bodies.

An AWOL soldier isn't unusual, with doctor's visits, nagging illnesses and medical routines that prolong life but make it so miserable. And, all too frequently, league president Doc Minor must step to the mike and announce that another of their brethren has rolled his last ball.

How can one bowl well knowing time is running out on a long life well lived, that a newly diagnosed illness will shorten that life, that age finally is taking its toll?

As one looks down the concourse at the waves of gray hair and wrinkled foreheads, gimpy knees and stiff-back deliveries, one wonder why a M.A.S.H. unit isn't on stand-by. "It's just wonderful to wake up every morning," said Joe Rizzi, 74, a former Army medic, owner of five battle stars and a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

"This is a great bunch of guys with no baggage who feel no pressure and just want to have a good time," Minor said. "We may not be the greatest bowlers in the world, but no one has more fun."

AROUND THE LANES: Largo Lanes has been sold, with closing on April 23, but details of the sale haven't been released. ... Pat Klotchko rolled an 804 series at Dunedin Lanes. ... Pat Wall recorded a 300-732 at AMF Kenneth City Lanes. ... Paul Pippenger managed a 300-791 at Countryside Lanes. ... Junior bowler Nick Bongiorno rolled a 300-740 and Gary Halstrom a 300-688 at Seminole Lanes. ... Brett Bolden rolled a 279-824 and David Tye, Paul Victory and Robert Sellner logged 300s at Liberty Lanes. ... Jack Stewart recorded a 300-759 at Sunshine Bowl. ... Larry Halstead had a 300-803 at Sunrise Lanes.

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