Texas 9-Pin Bowling — Like photography, bowling had been a regular family event when I was growing up, and the sounds of pins crashing, the smell of the diner food, the patina of years of Texas heat and cigarette smoke, as well as the family atmosphere, pulled me in to this project.
Documenting the survival of this cultural oddity known as bowling, was important to Texas and bowling history as well as my own personal connections to my family.
Ninepin bowling was originally an outdoor game brought by European settlers to the United States but largely outlawed by the 1930s. Today, a version of it survives as a cultural relic in the small German-heritage enclaves of Central Texas thanks to tradition and family values. In most of the country, bowling alleys were places filled with men drinking and gambling, so states and counties outlawed it wholesale. The crime term, “Kingpin,” is one of ninepin’s lasting legacies, and is derived from the special middle pin used in the ninepin game. This is why the ten-pinned game most Americans play today exists, to skirt laws that banned the previous version of the game–but not in small Central Texas towns.
Here, the game was never outlawed because it was a team sport, unlike its newer cousin, that was often a post-church or after-dinner family affair in small towns. Texas’ version of ninepin bowling, still played in similar forms in New England and internationally, has 17 or 18 alleys spread over four mostly rural counties in Texas’ Hill Country.
The Blanco Bowling Club has survived decades of declining membership and annual shoestring budgets, and faces real challenges to maintain relevance in an ever-evolving world of technology, activities, entertainment and, sometimes, economic uncertainty. The club, and to some extent the town itself, is and has been under a quiet assault from the modern world for decades while some residents do their best to hold on to what was and hope for a future that includes old traditions.
You can read my master’s report here, to see more and learn about how ninepin is different, the 2000+ year history of bowling and why ninepin has managed to survive in Central Texas.