Blind Bowlers Score With Their Own League

Bowlers compete weekly with the help of sighted 'pin spotters.'

SYRACUSE, N.Y., Dec. 1, 2008 -- It's about about 7:30 on a Wednesday night and 79-year-old Wilber Webb has just hit his second strike in a row. But he's not just a skilled bowler. He's a skilled bowler without sight.

"I only lack the ability to see, and I use alternative methods to correct those situations," says Webb.

Webb is one of 12 in the Salt City Blind Bowling League of Solvay, N.Y. It's one of many across the country. The group is made up of bowlers who are completely blind, some who have limited vision, and a few sighted bowlers. They meet every Wednesday night at the Solvay Recreation Alleys to practice their game.

Aided by Railing

Webb uses a railing, which runs along the bowling lane, to guide him to the foul line.

"When I pick up the ball, and I am assured the rack is down, I line myself up. And I know where I want to stand on the rail. I will walk toward the foul line and release my ball and pray that it's going to do what I said," he says.

From there, he uses the help of a sighted volunteer, known as a "pin spotter," to tell him which pins he still has to hit. It takes a great pin spotter, and a great bowler, to make for a great game. Webb says sometimes he can tell when he's done well just by the sound of the ball hitting the pins. But it's really up to his pin spotter to give him the good, or bad, news.

"I only know I got a strike in reality when the guy says you got a strike. I might try to talk him into it, but it will go nowhere," he says.

Ready to Compete

Some members of the league, like Webb, are in it for the competition.

"We belong to a state and a national league of bowlers, and our next tournament, state tournament, is going to be in Buffalo, and our national tournament is going to be in Cleveland," Webb says.

But others, like 69-year-old Judy Warner, are there for the camaraderie.

"It's a great social outlet, we have a lot of fun. We laugh at a lot," she says. Warner is the president of the league. One of her responsibilities is to organize for a bus to take the bowlers to and from the alley. She's also in charge of finding volunteer pin spotters. She says the league couldn't happen without these volunteers.

Charleyanne Till, 44, is one of the sighted bowlers in the league. But she says sight doesn't guarantee a good game. In fact, she's the first to admit that some of the bowlers, like Webb, are better bowlers than she is.

"They're blind bowlers. They are no different than you are. It's just that they can't see and we are their eyes," she says.

And Webb agrees.

"We all have different degrees of possibilities," he says, "the challenge is there, and I hope to meet it."