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In Arts & Entertainment

In old Milwaukee, everybody was a bowler! (PHOTO: Wisconsin Historical Society & United States Bowling Congress)

In Arts & Entertainment

Hank Marino graces the cover of "They Came to Bowl." (PHOTO: Wisconsin Historical Society & United States Bowling Congress)

Schmidt rolls strike with bowling history book

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But the real action was in the taverns and amusement center, and "They Came to Bowl" shares fascinating information -- and lots of great pictures -- of places like Holler House, Plankinton Arcade, Falcon Bowl and South Milwaukee Arcade.

Bowling hasn't managed to maintain its dominance here, however, thanks to TV, video games and all the other distractions available, but the sport hasn't exactly landed in the gutter here, either, says Schmidt.

"Bowling will always have a niche in Milwaukee, but it will never reach the heights of sanctioned competition it enjoyed through the 1970s. We live in a much faster-paced world. Fewer people are interested in long term commitments -- whether it is to a bowling league or a marriage.

"Bowling has a viable future as long as industry leaders right down through the local proprietors make a concerted effort to market the game as a lifetime activity. It's a safe social activity for youths -- whether they discover bowling through youth leagues, a high school letter sport or simply as a fun night out with friends. Bowling is still the number one participation sport in the country with 3 million sanctioned members, but that doesn't even include thousands more who have discovered the game as a healthy form of recreation in open play."

Despite Milwaukee's love affair with kegeling, "They Came to Bowl" is the first comprehensive look at the history of the sport in the city. The most recent "good history" of bowling, according to Schmidt, was Herman Weiskopf's "The Perfect Game" article in Sports Illustrated in 1978.

After 15 years publishing Wisconsin's Ten Pin Journal newspaper, Schmidt decided it was time to correct that situation.

"About six or seven years ago, I started thinking that Milwaukee has such a rich, colorful bowling history that it's a story that should be told," he recalls. "In 1978, Robert Wells published a book called, 'This Is Milwaukee.' It was such an enlightening and entertaining history of this city that I read it twice and I thought, 'this is the kind of story I would like to write about bowling.' I wanted to write something that displayed the human side of Milwaukee's numerous great bowlers and industry leaders and how they reflected Milwaukee culture. Mr. Wells was my inspiration."

The result is a detailed examination of the sport, of the places and the people in Milwaukee that made the game so beloved here. Schmidt also explains how the main governing bodies of the sport came to be headquartered here.

With a bevy of photos and a comprehensive list of all Milwaukee's bowling houses over the years, it's a fun read and informative at the same time.

Schmidt says he'd consider doing a follow-up, too, in the future.

"I would definitely like to write another book. If I were to write another bowling history, I'm sure cities like Chicago, St. Louis, New York and Detroit would have equally entertaining material to unveil. However, it took me five years to research and write 'They Came to Bowl' on a part-time basis and I'd like to write something that requires less fact-checking. I'm thinking about doing a collection of my dating experiences. It would be called, 'Musicians Always Get the Girls, So Why Did I Become a Writer?'"

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