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A conversation with Eileen Luba

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A night-shift ICU nurse at UPMC Shadyside, Eileen Luba, of O'Hara Township, unwinds on the lawn-bowling green. An ancient game, in which a series of balls called "bowls" are aimed at a smaller ball, lawn bowling was originally brought to this country by  British colonists. It fell from favor after the Revolution, but was re-established by Scottish immigrants in the early 20th century. Luba and her husband, Hank, have been members of the Frick Park Lawn Bowls Club since the early 1980s.

 

 

People must confuse lawn bowling with bocce.

All the time. They're probably derived from the same game. When the Romans invaded England, they brought the game with them. Bocce ball is a totally round ball, whereas the bowl in lawn bowling is biased. In bocce, the ball is often pitched or banked off sideboards; a true bocce game you play it in a pit, whereas we play on a lawn.

 

Is it a competitive game?

It's a very social game. Usually you're playing with six or even eight people, so there's all kinds of interactions. And unlike golf, where you play for a number, in lawn bowling you're playing an opponent. So you can do things to attack your opponent and defend against your opponent. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to analyze your opponent's game and see what you can do to throw him off his game.

 

So there's a good bit of strategy?

Most people don't realize how complex the game can be. It's more of finesse game, about strategy and hand-eye coordination; that's why men and women can play as equals. Besides your opponents, you also have to read the green ... a ridge here, the wind's blowing, or if it's dewy or rainy ... and how that will affect the play. Every time you step out, it's going to be different.

 

What keeps you playing?

It's a whole new way of thinking about an insignificant thing, where to throw a bowl ... with all the irritations, obligations and pressures of our lives. And how often do you hear adults cheer somebody? You go through your daily life and you hardly ever get any positive reinforcement, but all the time on the lawn bowling green, you hear "Great shot!" It's something I see myself doing until the day I die. I can think of no greater way to die than to be struck by lightning on a lawn-bowling green ... quickly and doing something I love.

 

A well-manicured lawn covered in black balls ... you must attract attention when you play.

"What are you doing?" "What is this called?" "What is the object of this game?" It's played in a very open area, a large grass green, so we're noticeable. We try to put up colored umbrellas, and make things look attractive. Passersby get interested, and we've recruited people right there at the green.

 

Do you have to fight the perception that lawn bowling is a game for older people?

It seems to have become a game for older people because it takes no particular strength, no tremendous stamina. You can be 84 years and be equally competitive with someone who is 25. It's really a game for the young, because they can master it so quickly. Other countries have youth leagues, but in our country it's become a game of retirement centers.

 

For instance, there is lawn bowling in the Paralympics, and I think that we're missing the boat on not integrating the sport. We've set aside this activity that they can do with each other ... when really they do it with able-bodied people just as effectively. There is no great advantage to being well in body.

 

How do you open up lawn bowling to new participants?

The club is always looking for members ... young, old, indifferent. We're trying a new program this year as an introduction called "jackpot bowling." Anybody can come by the Frick Park green on a Saturday mornings at 10. Put $2 in the kitty and borrow a set of bowls. You'll get on a team, and learn the game as you play. If you win, you get your $2 back, plus your opponent's. It's a lot of fun, a lot of challenge, and you might make some money.

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