pin bowling was once a popular sport in Fredericksburg,
but it was an obscure game that never caught on in Texas outside
the German communities in the Hill
Country. Fifty miles away, few people had even heard of it.
The game of nine pin bowling came to America in the seventeenth
century, and for a time it was a fashionable sport in men's circles.
Some men loved it too much, preferring to spend Sundays at the bowling
alley instead of church. Bowling alleys, like pool halls, acquired
sleazy reputations. Women and church officials were so unhappy with
bowling, not to mention the drinking and gambling associated with
the sport, they persuaded several state and local governments to
pass laws making nine pin bowling illegal.
To get around the new laws some genius added a tenth pin, and the
rest is history. By the twentieth century, ten pin bowling had far
surpassed nine pin in popularity with the public. Ten pin really
took off after World
War II when automatic pin setters and electronic scoring made
the game faster and easier. At the same time owners of bowling establishments
cleaned up their act. Bowling "alleys" became bowling "lanes." Bowling
Throughout the evolution of ten pin bowling, the game of nine pin
remained stranded in the nineteenth century; untainted by anything
modern or progressive. Because there were no automatic pin setters,
the pins were set by hand. Players kept score on a chalkboard. The
game honored tradition, refused to change, and slowly faded in popularity.
By the 1980s, the German Hill Country, where tradition and heritage
are treasured, was about the only area in the United States where
the game was played. It is still played today in a few isolated
places northwest of San
Nine pin is a noisy, sociable game. It is a team sport, with plenty
of time between turns for drinking and fraternizing. The rules are
simple. The pins are set in the shape of a diamond. The center pin,
called the kingpin or redhead, has a special red mark. A team gets
nine points when it knocks down all nine pins but twelve points
when it knocks down all pins but the kingpin. There are six people
on a team, and each team bowls six frames or innings. Each team
is led by a captain who gets to pick the bowling order. He will
tell you his decision is based on a detailed analysis of the situation
and intimate knowledge of each bowler's ability, but it usually
comes down to who's buying the beer.
The Germans of Fredericksburg
and Central Texas, more than any other group I know of, value leisure
time and emphasize it in their community life. They play just as
hard as they work and feel no guilt about it. A generation ago in
there were singing societies and shooting groups. There were dances
and concerts. Some families spent every Saturday night enjoying
the company of other families at the ice house down the street.
But for most of the twentieth century, nine pin bowling consistently
drew the biggest crowds.
There was a time in Fredericksburg
when bowling leagues were active Monday through Saturday at Hermann
Sons Hall and at the four lanes at Turner Hall. There were men's
leagues, women's leagues, and mixed leagues, and there was a waiting
list to get in. That's because nine pin bowling, more than anything
else, was a social event. Skill level was not important. Even the
score was a secondary concern. Nine pin was about laughing and drinking
beer. It was about fun. It was about belonging and even romance.
I know a surprising number of couples who bowled nine pin on their
first date. Quite a few Fredericksburg
husbands met their wives on a mixed league night at Turner Hall.
But times change. Outside influences have altered traditional cultural
patterns in the Hill
is both victim and beneficiary of that change.
Still it's too bad no one bowls nine pin in Fredericksburg
© Michael Barr
16, 2015 Column
Interview with Frances Hartmann, October 28, 2015.
Brownsville Herald, December 28, 1934, "Sports Chats," p. 3
New Braunfels Herald Zeitung, July 17, 1988, "Nine Pin Hall of Fame
in New Braunfels," p 11A.
New Braunfels Herald Zeitung, August 2, 1987, "Traditional German
Sport Kept Alive by Die-Hard Fans," p B1.
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