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Nearly blind, bad backs, but Senior League Bowlers at PINZ are an inspiration

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She hobbles up, barely making the step up to the lane.

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“I have no cartilage in my knees, makes it hard to walk,” says 90-year-old Teri Bonato.

Fellow bowler Gary Olsen tells her what pins remain standing.

“I can’t see the pins, I can’t even see the marks on the floor,” Teri says. “Macular degeneration.”

And if you think she needs the bumpers up to prevent a gutter ball—think again. She nabs the spare easily. Teri has had a recent 181 average and participates in regional leagues. Her husband was a pro bowler.

“I learned a lot from him,” Teri says. “But my husband left me with two kids to raise so he could become a pro bowler.”

Originally, I had planned to do a history piece on the building of PINZ Bowling in Studio City. It was once Kirkwood Lanes, and the likes of James Dean, Joan Crawford and William Holden stopped by, and more recently locals like Zac Efron, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Cannon and other stars come by for some quiet bowling time. Justin Timberlake used to bring his girlfriend Cameron Diaz here regularly, now Justin Bieber brings Selena Gomez.

But any of those stars could pass right by this group of seniors and they wouldn’t know it. They don’t know most of the names of the celebrities who have signed bowling pins that are behind glass on the wall along the lobby.

“I knew it when it was Kirkwood Bowl through the ‘50s,” says Don Thorner, 93, who has bowled at the lanes since 1946. “I remember when there were kids in the back setting up the pins.”

Actor and golfer Joe Kirkwood was known as the "Ideal American Boy" hero of the Joe Palooka movies, and built the bowling alley. In 2003, it went through extensive remodeling, to 32 lanes with 3D graphics on the automatic scoring board and a 200-foot mural of Los Angeles landmarks on the back wall. They have disco lights when they need it, and video arcade room. The bowling shop—where they drilled holes to your finger specifications—is long gone and there’s a martial arts studio there now.

Bowling coach and league organizer Barbara Lee knows many of these seniors for the past 30 years. She is also involved with the youth and adult leagues at the bowling alley.

“It’s amazing to watch these seniors,” Barbara said. “They’re good.”

Jerry Rabinowitz, 88, and his wife of 59 years, Joyce, have been bowling for three decades at PINZ—since he retired as a businessman. In his “spare time” he volunteers at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital medical library, the Braille Institute and the North Hollywood Food Pantry. They find time to bowl a few times a week.

“It keeps you mentally and physically active,” Jerry says. “Your average goes down a little bit, and you use a lighter ball.”

His wife took a little tumble at the lanes at a recent game, and Jerry quickly came to her side. Joyce was fine, but sat down with her friends.

“Everything is automated now—I don’t like it so much,” Joyce joked. “Back then you could go out of turn, you can’t now.”

Gary Olsen, 73, used to like to keep the score with a pad and pencil that was projected to the wall above them. “I’ve been bowling here for 14 years,” he says. “A lot has changed.”

Tony Piscuskas, 87, remembers when there were 16 teams in the senior league alone when he started in 1993.

“It was real competitive, it still is,” says Tony, who started playing Duck Pins in Massachusetts first before he learned 10-pin bowling and his family moved to California in 1963.

Even injury won’t keep some of the seniors away from their favorite pastime. Joel Margolis hurt his back and had surgery on it a month ago.

It was his first day back, and he was getting back in the swing of things.

“I’ve been bowling for 35 years,” says Joel, a former driver safety instructor. He comes out three or four times a week. “It’s my exercise.”

There are all kinds of leagues, lessons for first-timers and specials that bowlers can get involved with at PINZ. Check out the website at: www.pinzbowlingcenter.com.

It’s nice to know that in a half-dozen years or so I can join the PINZ Senior League, and join in the camaraderie there.

But, I’ll have to improve my game first.

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