Diana is bowling. She squats down, eyes steadily fixed on the small white objects 60 feet away. With both hands, she is grasping a large black ball. It appears rock heavy.
Suddenly, Diana gives it a mighty shove, and the ball begins to spin down the alley floor - lazily, but it is moving nonetheless. And then it takes a vicious turn to the left. Diana has given the ball that little kid twist, and it is headed straight for the gutter, where most bowling balls thrown by 6-year-olds seem to end up. No amount of gesturing or shouting from Diana will help that ball now.But wait! It is not going into the gutter! The gutters have been filled with powder blue air-filled tubes. The ball merely glances off the cushions and is heading straight for the pins. Can it be . . . yes! Diana Webber, a first-grader from Orem, has just bowled down eight pins.
Welcome to the world of bumper bowling, where discouraging gutter balls are a thing of the past and where pint-size bowlers like Diana and her sister, Debi, 4, are discovering it is possible to knock down those silly white pins.
The 60-foot-long balloon tube that fills up the gutters at bowling alleys in the Salt Lake and Provo areas is giving children and handicapped an opportunity to bowl as never before.
"It's opening the sport to a lot of young kids," said John Best, manager of Regal Lanes in Provo. "We started with four sets of bumpers and added two more this week. We are taking more reservations than we can handle."
Debbie Bender, an employee at Mountain View Lanes, 5700 S. Redwood Road, said bumper bowling is giving a new boost to the sport.
"Parents are bringing their children in to bowl, with the bumpers in place, and we've had Scout troops, groups of handicapped and many children's parties here since we installed the bumpers."
The idea of using inflatable tubes in the gutters along each side of a bowling lane was the brainchild of a professor in Lansing, Mich., who was trying to teach handicapped children how to bowl, Best said. He found that air-filled tubes prevented gutter balls yet allowed a ball to be guided back onto the lane and toward the pins.
"The bumpers allow kids to bowl without getting discouraged," Best said.
The tubes cost about $400 a pair and have been in use for the past three years at bowling alleys around the country.
Best said DBA, a company that manufactures "glancer cushions," recently sent three sets of bumpers to President Bush for use in the White House's basement bowling alley.
Bumper bowling has definitely increased bowling's attraction as a family sport.
"The look on their faces is what gets you because they are so delighted to get some pins down," said Karen Stegmeier, bowling instructor at Regal Lanes.