Jodi Brazda, Hays, was born in 1986, and readily admits she has no idea what it was like in 1979. But that’s when Bruce and Jill Herreman took possession of their newly purchased business, Centennial Lanes, 2400 Vine St.
Brazda was at Centennial Lanes on Saturday to help celebrate the 40th anniversary, which the Herremans were commemorating by offering 1979 prices, with 85-cent games and 25-cent shoe rentals.
“My boss is a relative to one of the owners, so we thought we might as well beat the heat,” said Brazda, who was bowling with her children.
In four decades a lot has changed.
“Forty years ago,” said Bruce, recalling when he bought the alley, “you didn’t have automatic scoring, you didn’t have six-pound bowling balls or dragon ramps for the kids, there were no bumpers, and you didn’t have glow bowling. All of that has been developed over the last four decades to make it easier for people to get into the game.”
Other things have changed too. The alleys and pins are no longer wood, but made of synthetic materials.
And small bowling centers in the area have closed, said Herreman, naming off Plainville, La Crosse, Ellis, WaKeeney, Phillipsburg, Smith Center and Hill City.
Also, most bowling in Hays and nationwide is now what the industry calls organized open play, instead of most bowlers coming for a league, where they play on a team and show up like clockwork the same night every week for 30 weeks.
“It’s a generational thing,” Herreman said. “The baby boomer generation made commitments. The younger generation doesn’t seem as willing to make that 30- or 28-week commitment.”
So people come a lot for parties now, whether it's birthday, office, Christmas, bachelor and bachelorette, or anniversary.
The last time Brazda played was a couple times around the holidays when her sister was in town.
The Herreman’s granddaughter, Tana Herreman, grew up at the bowling alley. She was working Saturday, like she often does, running the front desk and the snack bar, and doing anything else that was needed.
“I’ve grown up here,” said Tana, a sophomore at Fort Hays majoring in graphic design. “My earliest memory is bowling in the Saturday morning youth league with my little Tweety Bird ball and drinking chocolate milk with all my friends.”
The Chocolate Milk League, for toddlers to 5-year-olds, still gathers at 10 a.m. on Saturdays during the school year. There’s also a Magic League for kids 6 to 12 years old, and the Super Stars League for youth up to age 18.
Tana’s dad, Dallas, and his brother, Tyler, manage the day-to-day operations at the bowling alley for their parents.
“I’m well past retirement age,” Bruce said. “My wife says we have a working retirement, but we are not there every single day now, year-in and year-out like we were.”
Born and raised in Rapid City, S.D., Bruce met Jill at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., while working on his undergraduate degree and Jill’s father was earning his doctoral degree.
Bruce's parents started him bowling at 5, playing in a league at 9, and he went on to coach the bowling teams at South Dakota State. After he and Jill got married they owned a bowling pro shop in Brookings, but wanted to buy a bowling alley. Jill’s mother, Jean Stegmeir, was in real estate in Hays and told them about Centennial Lanes when it came up for sale. The rest is history.
The clatter of striking balls and falling pins is very familiar to Bernice Edgett, Plainville, who was playing on Saturday at Centennial. Edgett began playing on a league team at Centennial Lanes in 1988. She bowls every Tuesday night and has gone to the state tournament 31 times and to nationals 15 times.
“I just fell in love with bowling,” said Edgett. “I became a certified coach in 1984 for junior varsity leagues. The first year I sanctioned over 100 kids. We had third grade on up and got kids interested in bowling.”
Her take-home lesson: You don’t have to be good or know what you’re doing to start, because in bowling you have a handicap.
“It levels the playing field,” Edgett said. “You don’t have to be an expert.”
Anita Ruder, Hays, is on the same team, which is sponsored by the Bank of Hays. Ruder started when she was 18 and has been bowling for 44 years.
It’s a struggle to get enough people together for league bowling teams, she said.
“I like it, it’s my social life,” she said. “We can relax, we can visit, it’s always been my social life. I started at Hays Bowl in the dome, now we go to tournaments and have fun and meet people from all over the state. And nationals are in a different city every year.”
Dottie Legleiter and her husband, Dale, had their granddaughters with them Saturday. Leah, 15, and Addie, 11.
“I like the competition and I like how I set goals for myself and try to do better each time,” Leah said.
With this coming Saturday being National Bowling Day, Centennial Lanes is offering another special — buy one game and get the second game for free — said Dallas Herreman. Games are normally $4.25 for adults and $3.95 for kids.
While bowling has changed over the decades, that’s not what’s important, Dallas said.
“It doesn’t matter to us,” he said. “We just like people to come in and have a good time.”