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Posted July 29, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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There's no ducking bowling alley's new draw

Duckpins get knocked around
Duckpins get knocked around by a ball at Shenandoah Bowling Lanes in Mt. Jackson on Saturday. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Brittany Long bowls
Brittany Long, of Suffolk, watches one of her rolls on Saturday. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Al Safranek serves drinks
Al Safranek, co-owner of Shenandoah Bowling Lanes, serves drinks to Irene Sommers, of Luray, during the Virginia Ladies All-Stars duckpin tournament held at the Shenandoah Bowling Lanes at Mt. Jackson on Saturday. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Co-owner Randy Gibson
Co-owner Randy Gibson resets one of the lanes. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Members of the Virginia Ladies All-Stars
Members of the Virginia Ladies All-Stars bowl during their tournament at the Shenandoah Bowling Lanes on Saturday in Mt. Jackson. The business is one of only a few duckpin houses in the region. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Linda Wright rolls the ball
Linda Wright, of Richmond, rolls the ball down the lane and hopes for a strike during the Virginia Ladies All-Stars duckpin tournament held at the Shenandoah Bowling Lanes at Mt. Jackson on Saturday. The business is one of only a few duckpin houses in the region. Andrew Thayer/Daily


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By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

MT. JACKSON -- Randy Gibson grew up on duckpin bowling, getting his first taste of it when he was 3 and becoming a regular by age 12.

In Maryland, where he was raised, that shouldn't come as a surprise. With about 30 duckpin alleys, the state is the duckpin king, Gibson said.

But the sport has never meant more to him than it does today. With his wife, Jeannette, Gibson entered a partnership with the owner of Shenandoah Bowling Lanes, Al Safranek, in 2007 to help run the 1950 establishment. Two years and plenty of renovations later, it is the Mt. Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce's business of the year and as popular as ever.

There is new paint, windows have been replaced, steps leading upstairs to the second-story alley have been carpeted, taller tables to watch bowlers were built and the concession stand has been expanded to offer dozens of items at the area's only duckpin alley.

"A lot of people didn't even know we existed," Mrs. Gibson said. "They see the pin [outside along Main Street] and think, 'Oh, that's something from a while ago and it's just sitting there.'"

It's just the opposite. The alley, which in addition to having leagues, hosts private parties, invites day-care children regularly and is attempting to have a junior league set up through the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department.

"We're focusing on getting youth interested," Mrs. Gibson said.

Gibson certainly would not be involved with the game, much less be the co-owner of an alley, had he not been raised on duckpins. When he and his wife moved to the area in 1993, he noticed the pin sign on Main Street and almost immediately become a regular, befriending longtime owner Roland Walters.

"The stadium seating, I had never seen that," Gibson said. "Not to mention it's on the second floor. It's usually in a basement. To come in and see the stadium bench seating, it's really weird looking, to be honest with you."

But it adds to the alley's ambiance, which the Gibsons have also had a hand in. Walters left behind a lot of keepsakes in a back room, Mrs. Gibson said. Among them was an early 1950s Coke sign that the couple dug out and hung on the wall just to the left as you enter.

The sign reads, "The pause that refreshes," and has standings for leagues of that era, such as married women, local girls and local men.

"It was important that we left the retro-style," Mrs. Gibson said.

That includes manual scoring of games.

"The kids have to use math," Mrs. Gibson said. "Parents love it."

The number never reaches 300 -- there has never been a perfect game in duckpin bowling -- and only rarely touches 200. Gibson, whose top score is 222, said a professional duckpin bowler would have to hold an average of 135, an achievement he has never reached.

"I can bowl a 200-plus in tenpin, but I guarantee you, a 160 in duckpin is a heckuva game," he said. "We get a lot of tenpin bowlers who say, 'Daggone, this game is hard.' It is a really strange game. It really is."

It's that pursuit of perfection, or as close as humanly possible, that keeps many bowlers coming back. Last weekend, as it does twice a year, the Virginia Ladies All-Stars filled the alley for a duckpin tournament. Participants come from across the state.

And when they come to Mt. Jackson to bowl and share a few drinks, it's hard to imagine them having any more fun elsewhere.

"I love this [duckpin] house," said Eileen Cherry, of Chesterfield. "It's one of the smallest and oldest. It's very nostalgic. I typically bowl very good at this alley. I'm not sure what the reason is. It might be because we're having fun."

For more information about Shenandoah Bowling Lanes, call 477-2341.

Also at its recent annual banquet, the chamber recognized Sid Price, chairman of Shenandoah County Search Inc.'s board of directors, as its person of the year.

Search is a group home that serves the needs of residents with developmental disabilities. According to a news release, Price earned the honor because of his role in promoting the general welfare of those residents and assimilating them into the social, political and economic life of the county.

He also was involved in moving the Search thrift store to its new location, at the former Mt. Jackson Volunteer Rescue Squad building on Main Street.

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