Free Bowling for Kids This Summer

By Jessica McFadden
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, June 19, 2009

Rachel Bamberger, 9, of Chevy Chase believes if kids have to stay inside on a summer day, bowling a few balls is the best activity.

"If it's a rainy day or really hot, bowling is much better than just sitting down and watching a movie. . . . The energy flows out from you, and it's an out-of-the-ordinary thing to do with your friends," she says.

Thankfully, Bamberger and her pals will have an array of bowling options this summer in the Washington area. With kids-bowl-free promotions and free games for every report card "A," cosmic bowling and Transformers-themed bowling teams, area alleys are working to show families a good time on the lanes.

Traditional 10-pin bowling alleys such as Strike Bethesda and Rinaldi's in Riverdale provide lightweight balls and retractable bumpers for children. Maryland and Virginia are also two of the 10 states that offer duckpin bowling, a game born in Baltimore with smaller balls and pins and different rules. The reduced size of duckpin balls make them easy for even preschool kids to handle, and the allowance of three throws makes each turn satisfying.

"The small duckpin balls save a lot of injuries with the young kids, and the retractable bumpers save a lot of tears," says Evan Turner, veteran employee of White Oak Duckpin Lanes in Silver Spring.

The White Oak Duckpin Lanes has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. The alley uses the same machines it had in 1959, striving for a retro vibe. (Well, except for the decidedly current practice of Friday night cosmic bowling for teens.)

"What I like about White Oak Lanes is that it's incredibly child friendly," says Patti Lalley of Silver Spring. "It was as easy for my son Eamon to play at age 3 as it is at age 6. We go in the summer as a relief from the humidity and to change up the 'going to the pool' routine."

"When a parent comes in and asks if her kid is old enough, we always say, 'If you can walk, you can bowl,' " says Berlin Myers, a manager at Rinaldi's Riverdale Bowl.

White Oak and Rinaldi's offer adult-youth leagues with teams typically made up of one parent and one child. These competitions are held weekly and are low on pressure, high on family fun. AMF Bowling Centers in the Washington area, such as AMF's College Park and Centreville locations, have summer bowling clubs for kids based on the popular toys Transformers and Bratz. Kids receive bowling balls, T-shirts and swag branded with the cartoony characters of their choice and then meet weekly to bowl with a group of new friends.

Local Bowl America locations, including Bowl America Falls Church, trade good report card marks for free games. In the Rolling Rewards program, every "A" or equivalent top grade on final report cards can be traded for one free game of bowling at Bowl America centers. The students are also automatically enrolled in the Rolling Rewards Honor Roll program, which will earn them one free game of bowling for every visit to Bowl America during the next school year.

Many local alleys are part of this summer's national Kids Bowl Free program. The promotion requires families to pick one participating bowling center and register, and then children (age 15 and younger) receive coupons for two free games per day for the entire summer. Shoe rental and adult participation are not included. However, parents can sign up for a reduced price Family Pass for $23.95, a one-time fee that allows adults to bowl two games per day all summer.

Bored teens are target summer bowling audiences, too. Cosmic, disco, galactic, extreme: Whatever you call it, bowling with crazy lights and loud music is a fun weekend evening activity for older kids. Most alleys in the area offer a variation on this black light, out-for-the-night bowling experience.

Strike Bethesda has electronic effects and loud music all day long. "We really have the ideal indoor hangout place for teens, with 34 lanes and a brand-new arcade with basketball, popular new games and even old-school Pac-Man," says Lindsay Carlton, director of Strike Bethesda. "Before 9, it's not too clubby and adult, but it's still cool."

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