There might not be a bowling alley in Ketchikan anymore, but that didn’t stop a steady stream of teams from knocking over some pins Saturday during the annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake.
It was a sad day for bowlers in Alaska’s First City when the lanes went dark at Ketchikan’s only bowling alley. Bowling leagues weren’t the only group affected, though; the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapter had to figure out how to conduct its annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake, a fundraiser that was established by the national organization, and that all chapters must organize each year.
But local director Joann Flora makes it happen, with help from the community.
“I’ve made this work through the generosity of two organizations,” she said. “The first is the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and parks and recreation, who donate the use of this space to us every year for an all-day event. It helps our organization and because of their generosity, we open it to the public, so it becomes a community-wide event, as well.”
The second organization is Wells Fargo bank. That business stepped up when Flora was looking into portable bowling equipment.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do for Bowl for Kids’ Sake, and I went to the Southeast vice president, and thought I’d try to get a donation to start collecting donations to buy the bowling equipment like you see here today,” she said. “He said, ‘how much do you need?’ I told him, and he said, ‘OK.’”
Set up for the event, the rec center’s main gym looks somewhat like a multi-lane bowling alley. There aren’t any gutters, though, and the automatic ball return system is a bunch of kids from the Ketchikan High School choir, standing behind the pins and rolling balls back to bowlers.
“It’s not Brunswick Lanes,” she said. “But, it is significantly better than the little backyard sets. These are weighted pins and rubberized weighted balls. That’s why they bounce.”
Bowling is free to anyone who shows up. The fundraising comes from registered teams who raised money through signing up sponsors before the event. There also is food for sale and prizes for a raffle, both also helping to make money for the nonprofit organization.
Flora stressed that all the money from the local event remains with the local group; none goes to the national organization, or to any of the other approximately 12 chapters in Alaska.
She said the event just wouldn’t work without local support.
“It’s an extremely generous community, and it’s taken an awful lot of people to make it a successful event,” she said. “And it’s a great opportunity for us to have fun, for our matches to engage with each other in a recreational activity, bring in members of the community and have a great day.”
Big Brother/Big Sisters matches qualified adults with young people to provide an additional positive role model for youth.
Flora pointed out one of the local matches: RK Rice and his little brother. They managed to get the third-highest amount in pledges for the entire state.
Rice believes the photo they used with their request made the difference. Rather than an image provided by the national organization, he sent out a snapshot of himself and his little brother, holding a big Dungeness crab.
“It’s the same people that I sent emails to – I call it the shakedown email – donated four times as much money when I put a picture of us up rather than some generic picture of a stranger with another little. So, yeah, it felt pretty good,” he said.
Rice has been a big brother for about eight years, and is on his second match — his first little brother graduated out of the program. Rice said he joined as a way to give back to the community.
“I’ve had a good life, and I just think it’s important for all of us to give back to this country, this city, for all of the good things we get out of it,” he said.
Rice said the program is good for him, too.
“I don’t want to become a grouchy old fart,” he said. “It’s good for me to hang out with these kids.”
While the proceeds haven’t been fully counted yet, Flora estimated the group made more than $7,000 in one day of bowling. She said about 200 people participated, including at least one local elected official.
Flora pointed to Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer as he took a shot, and missed.
“It’s a good thing you’re a better mayor than a bowler,” she called out.
“No comment,” he replied.
Nineteen teams participated in Saturday’s bowling event. For more information about the event and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, go to www.bbbsak.org/bowl