The bowling alley inside the Humber River Lanes in Deer Lake Tuesday is standing room only.
All available chairs are occupied and the rest of the spectators are two or three people deep at the back of the room.
There are so many people, it isn’t possible to see the athletes firing balls down their lanes.
All you can do is listen for the sound of the ball heading toward the pins and judge the results by what you hear afterward.
It isn’t just those in the alley who are getting an earful.
You can hear the bowling fans before you see them. The cheering leaks into the foyer between the alley and the rink.
In a sport that is on life support in my home region of the province, this outburst of emotion catches this scribe off guard.
Prior to this, most of my experience with the game comes from birthday parties as a child.
I’ve seen the famous clip of bowler Peter Weber hitting a winning shot and erupting into celebration.
In the clip, there are multiple fist pumps, yelling and a raucous environment coming unglued at the shot. At the end of the video Weber shouts to no one in particular, “Who do you think you are? I am.”
I saw that and still didn’t believe that such a vivid example of emotion could be found in the bowling alley.
The closest I’ve come to competitive bowling was the time a friend and I bet a slice of pizza over who got the next strike during random night at the lanes. So, chalk it up to my relative unfamiliarity with the sport at a competitive level to my being naïve.
The forefront of my bowling education occurred during the gold medal match of the female bowling portion of the Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games.
Players and fans of Western and St. John’s North traded chants, cheers and outbursts as the teams came down to the wire with a medal on the line.
The moments before and after a shot acted as a microcosm for the entire event.
In instances like when Western bowler Jenna Leyte calmly took her ball from the rack and settled into her starting position.
Visualizing the shot, she took two slow steps and took a breath before taking another step and delivering the bowling ball down the lane.
When she gets the desired result, the place comes alive with high-fives, screaming and boisterous shouts of approval from spectators.
“I think if some people don’t know bowling it would surprise them, but we’re only cheering our teammates on,” Leyte said moments after winning gold.
Count me among those who were surprised at the noise. It blew away my expectations.
Nicholas Mercer is the online editor at The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org