Merritt has hockey, Merritt has softball, Merritt has curling, and along Coutlee Avenue there is a mural depicting another sport that Merritt wants to establish themselves in. Inside the Merritt Bowling Centre are teams of bowlers enthusiastically competing against each other to build up the budding community.
Merritt Bowling Centre annually hosts a slew of in-house leagues, from seniors, to youth, and mixed adult divisions. This year marks the continuation of the great attendance the bowling centre was experiencing prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.
“We have five-pin bowling,” said Richard ‘Digz’ Sterling, organizer for the Merritt Bowling Centre’s in-house leagues.
Five-pin bowling was invented in Canada in the early 1900’s by Thomas F. Ryan. Much like its more popular 10-pin counterpart, the objective of the game is to knock all the pins down by rolling a ball over them.
“It’s only famous in Canada. Because they feature smaller balls and less pins, people think it’s easier, but it’s actually more difficult than 10-pin.”
Sterling believes that this version of the game is making a return to prominence with more people getting into the game.
“I think five-pin bowling is trying to make a comeback right now,” he said. “It was big in the 90’s and it’s coming full circle now. More people are coming out and more people are interested in the leagues and as a fan of the sport, it feels good.”
Speaking on his observations in Merritt, Sterling believed that the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions had a double edged sword effect that improved the game’s popularity in the Nicola Valley.
“During the pandemic we were allowed to run the leagues but we were only allowed to run four lanes at a time,” he explained. “It definitely put a bit of spike among our leagues and as a result, a lot of people quit. This year, now that were getting through it, the lanes are getting full again.”
There are four different leagues that Merritt Bowling Centre offers; ladies, seniors, adult mixed, and youth. The youth league is further divided into three age brackets; bantams (ages four to 10), juniors (10-14), and seniors (15-19).
“I think the pandemic put a bit of kibosh with our leagues but it also opened up opportunities for people to do something and, as a result, we became more popular throughout the pandemic than we ever have,” Sterling said.
“Our mixed leagues are full for both the Monday and Thursday slots. There are already eight teams occupying our eight lane centre. It’s actually the first year we’ve had full leagues since 2019.”
Operating on a pins on average system, Sterling explains that the bowling in their centre may be competitive but is emphasizing a fun experience first and foremost.
“It’s not intense competition but we have fun and compete for sure. We promote community and fun first. We bring people together.”
If the thrill of competition is what players are seeking, Sterling mentioned an opportunity for higher level competition.
“Merritt is set to host the Interior Championships B division,” Sterling said. “We haven’t hosted it since 2012. All the teams within B.C., ranging from here to Fruitvale, will gather here and play in a tournament over a weekend. It should be a lot of fun!”
Sterling said that league bowlers affiliated with Merritt Bowling Centre will have the opportunity to qualify for the house’s representative team.
“We have a championships roll-off trials which we’ll be having in December,” he explained. “The top five qualifying men and women will compete in the A division which will be hosted in Kamloops while the next five finishing men and women will make up the team to compete here for division B.”
Merritt Bowling Centre’s In-house bowling leagues began their season on the second week of September and it will last until April 2023. Sterling notes that although the amount of teams are full, the bowling centre are still welcoming new players to join the rosters. For more information, please visit www.merrittbowling.ca.