By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It’s a sport that has roots dating back to the early 1900s in Oshawa, and for many, it’s a common perception that in order to play, your age has to be pumped into the double digits.
However, from July 6 to 8, the Oshawa Lawn Bowling Club is set to tackle that common misconception as hundreds of junior players between the ages of eight and 18 are converging on the club to vie for top positions in the Youth Provincial Championships.
Teams from across Ontario, including 20 from the Oshawa Lawn Bowling Club alone will compete for the chance to move on to the Canadian championships in Winnipeg later this year. The weekend kicks off with opening ceremonies and parade at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, followed by playdowns in both male and female divisions until 6 p.m.
The weekend will not only be a chance to showcase the Oshawa Lawn Bowling Club, but as member Alan Steffen puts it, it’s also a chance to grow the sport across the province, as other clubs see the strength of Oshawa’s junior programs.
“Other clubs see that we have a strong junior movement and then they look at theirs and say, ‘we’ve only got 10 members, what’s wrong with us?”
For the Oshawa club, which has roots dating back to 1904, it has seen its fair share of ebbs and flows when it comes to membership. When it was first introduced to the city, the club played on greens at Prospect Park, the site that would become the future home of Colonel R.S. McLaughlin known as Parkwood Estate. After its inception, the club relocated three times in the early years, moving from Prospect Park to the corner of Simcoe Street and Richmond Street, the former property of Williams Piano Works. From there, they moved to a municipal lot on the southwest corner of Alexander Street and Simcoe Street, adjoining the Oshawa General Hospital, then again, in 1939, moving to the corner of Colborne Street West and McMillan Drive (now Kaiser Crescent). The club has been at its current home, adjoining the Northview Community Centre (150 Beatrice Street East), since 1990. Since its inception, four members of the club have been inducted in the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame.
According to current club president Margaret LeBlanc, membership has been fairly steady over the years, but has seen a slight dip recently to around 160 members. In particular, she says it can be tricky to attract the younger crowd.
“I think it’s a little harder in the sense that they seem to think it’s a senior’s game, it’s for old people. Well, it’s not for old people, I’ve been doing it for 25 years,” she says. “It’s for every age and it’s a benefit to your health and wellness and it’s good exercise all the way around, there’s a lot of socializing, getting to know people and enjoying coming out and being in a group.”
With that said, LeBlanc notes that the club does have a strong junior program with more than 25 players. The club also supports a group of visually impaired players, and throughout the course of a season will host approximately 17 tournaments.
“I think it’s a very successful club,” says member Bob Matthews, who also serves as the club’s publicity coordinator. “That’s why we want to grow the sport and get people into the game more and more.”
The game is fairly simple to learn, along with the technique of rolling the biased balls, and for that reason, Steffen says lawn bowling is a very accessible sport.
“It’s not as strenuous as hockey, there’s not as much money involved in playing lawn bowling, it’s a relatively economical sport,” he says.
On top of that, for member Suzie Palmer, while joining a club offers much in terms of social benefits, it also allows one the freedom to come and go as they please.
“If you want to play once a week you can and if you want to play seven days you can, that’s your choice,” she says.
The club hosts recreational events throughout the week, including different games on Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays, along with Monday afternoons.
For Matthews, it’s one of the few sports where you can have many different generations teaming up, or facing off.
“The beauty of it is an eight-year-old can play with a 93-year-old in this game,” he says. “It is a great sport. You don’t have to be playing a lot to be an average bowler.”
Following the provincial championships, the club will also be hosting another premier event this summer when they hold the 80th annual Oshawa Gold Cup on Aug. 4. The men’s fours event, consisting of 32 teams and 128 players will compete to get their name engraved on the cup, previously donated by Colonel R.S. McLaughlin, along with $4,600 in prize money. The tournament will see teams from as far away as Ottawa and Windsor take part and will also bring out the upper tier of Oshawa’s lawn bowling players with many of them having previously earned medals at Canadian championships.
For more information about the lawn bowling club, membership, or the upcoming events, visit www.oshawalbc.weebly.com.