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Bowling league helps retirees stay active, social in golden years

By Mark Ambrogi

Helen Nelson has been bowling for many years and she’ll be the first to admit she hasn’t improved much.

But it doesn’t matter. Like many in the Silver Stars league of 80 men and women at Cooper’s Stardust Bowl in Noblesville, it’s not really about the bowling.

“Exercise and the people,” Nelson said of her reasons she keeps coming out for the 1 p.m. afternoon social session every Monday, mixed in with some strikes, spares and splits.

Nelson, who turns 90 in September, is the second oldest member of the league.

“It gets me out of the house,” said the Cicero resident, who averages 126. “I just like seeing the people, the noise and the laughter. I don’t know if I love to bowl that much, but it’s something to do, let’s put it that way.”

Nelson’s other favorite pastime is playing cards.

Duke Paugh, the oldest member of the league, is 100 years old. The Indianapolis resident celebrated his birthday at the lanes in August. Paugh fell this winter and has had to sit out the past several weeks of the league, but hopes to return before the end of the season.

Guy Barger, the league president from Noblesville, said the league, which runs from August to the end of March, is for 50 and over but most are in the 70s or 80s. Just two bowlers are under 60.

“We’re competitive but it’s a place to mingle and socialize,” the 71-year-old Barger said. “There are about 20 to 25 of us that go to dinner weekly. We go around to different places, Jim Dandy (Family Restaurant), O’Charley’s, Applebee’s and Chili’s.”

Cecil Giddings, who turns 79 in May, takes pride in his bowling but that’s not his main focus, either. Giddings, from Noblesville, averages 184, which is down from last season’s average of 191.

“But I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “It’s a fun league. When you get older there are lot of things you can do but bowling is something you can do and socialize with people.”

Giddings, a former president of the league, is now the vice president. As long as he is able, Giddings plans to bowl.

“It keeps you active and gives you something to look forward to,” said Giddings, who first started bowling at age 19. “I had my one 300 here about 10 years ago. I bowled a 280-something last year and a 279 this year. But the main thing is getting out here and enjoying yourself. You make friends. It’s better than sitting home doing crossword puzzles all the time.”

Hilda Parsons of Noblesville is not one of the group who goes out to eat afterwards.

“I go home and rest,” said Parsons, who bowls in a Monday night mixed league at Stardust. “I’m the only one who does both.”

Parsons, 72, used to bowl in the mixed league with her husband for 20 years.

“A couple of years ago, he quit,” she said. “He said, ‘I don’t need to do this anymore. It’s like a job.’ I’ve said when it stops being fun, I’ll quit but it’s still fun.”

Tony Henry, 66, has been bowling in the league for 10 years.

“I didn’t take up bowling until I was about 50,” the Westfield resident said. “Its a little competition, but I’m not in here strictly for the competition. There’s a few in here that are.”

Buck Lightle, 65, carries the highest average at 191 for men (Robyn Lamey has the high women’s average at 166). While he competes in four leagues and takes his bowling seriously, he enjoys the people.

“They’re all good people,” Lightle said. “I started here when I moved here from Westfield. This is two minutes from my house.”

League secretary Bertie Sonnerville, a 71-year-old who moved from North Carolina to Noblesville three-and-a-half years ago, found the league atmosphere friendly from the start.

“They’re down-to-earth people,” she said. “We get a few who get excited about their bowling. Most everybody is laid-back and having a good team. It’s like one great big family. We look out for each other.”

Barger said the league is frequently looking for new bowlers each year because attrition rate is higher than most leagues because the bowlers are older. For information about joining the league for the 2015-16 season, call Stardust Bowl at 773-3381.