A BYA summer camper “bowls” to the target. Photo- Jim Corr
A BYA summer camper “bowls” to the target. Photo: Jim Corr

By James Corr

Lawn bowling is often (mistakenly) seen as a sport of ‘the older set.’ This summer, the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club (BLBC) set out to counter that myth, joining forces with Berkeley Youth Alternatives (BYA) to offer coaching on the basics of lawn bowling as a summer camp activity for BYA participants.

BYA is a local community organization that seeks to provide a secure and nurturing environment for children, youth, and their families. Through sports, counseling, educational support and other means, BYA places special emphasis on shifting ‘children at risk’ into ‘individuals with potential.’ Its 2016 Summer Jam Day Camp provided spaces for 40 children and teens ages 6-14 from diverse backgrounds to enjoy exciting and fun activities. For the first time in several years, lawn bowling was one of those activities.

Spearheaded by Erwin Vista, a Bowls USA-certified coach (and a grade school and music teacher off the green), the weekly program put the fun back in the fundamentals of lawn bowling, initially by using tennis balls as substitutes for actual lawn bowls and beach balls as substitutes for jacks (the target ball in lawn bowling) — and later graduating to use of actual lawn bowls and a real jack.

The young bowlers were first asked to select blue and gold team names, which happen to be the colors of the two sets of mats BLBC owns, as well as the colors of Berkeley. One week, for example, the Blue Tornados competed against the Golden Hurricanes.

BLBC Coach Erwin Vista points to the good form and concentration of the BYA camper rolling “the real thing.” Photo- Jim Corr
BLBC Coach Erwin Vista points to the good form and concentration of the BYA camper rolling as “the real thing.” Photo: Jim Corr

On the mat, the drills usually began with rolling four tennis balls a relatively short distance to where green ground mats were placed — the team that ended up with most balls on the mat,won a point in that round, building the basic skill of rolling a limited distance. Other formats include placing a beach ball within a triangle of three bowls and trying to touch it with the rolled tennis ball. To make it even trickier, Coach Erwin was not beyond placing a few strategic bowls halfway between the mat and the beach ball as “blockers.”

If sufficient numbers of players were available, a third game involved rolling the tennis ball about 20 feet to a team-mate and you only scored a point if your team-mate could reach to pick up the ball without removing his/her foot from the mat. Over the course of several rounds, scores were kept—with the prize for the winning team being that they got first choice of (healthy) snacks at the end of the hour. Meanwhile the losers were asked to help with tidying up—but they got snacks too.

The program was enthusiastically received by the youngsters and their counselors and heartily endorsed by Berkeley councilman Darryl Moore, in whose district both BLBC and BYA are situated.

“The Bowling Club and Berkeley Youth Alternatives are both important community resources,” Moore said. “I am delighted to see them coming together this way.” Both organizations hope the venture will become a feature of summer camp in future years.

And as Coach Erwin commented, one day these youthful fledgling bowlers may look back on this summer and think: “Hey, that was fun — I wonder if there’s a lawn bowling green around here?”

BYA summer campers with their counsellors and BLBC coaching staff. Photo- Jim Corr
BYA summer campers with their counsellors and BLBC coaching staff. Photo: Jim Corr

Jim Corr is a Berkeley-based writer/photographer, avid lawn bowler, and fanatical supporter of Glasgow Celtic FC.

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