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Lehigh man hopes to reignite interest in bowling

Dave Kempton
Special to the News Star

Pat Ciniello owns six bowling centers in Southwest Florida and is considered the kingpin of the local bowling scene.

Then Robert Peters of Lehigh Acres might carry the title of commissioner or grandfather of bowling in Southwest Florida.

Peters is finishing his 35th year as the association manager/executive director of the Southwest Florida Bowling Association. He also holds the same titles with the Florida State Bowling Association.

Peters operates associations that organize membership, tournaments and attempt to grow the sport.

“I stay busy, that’s for sure, because in a normal year something is going on nearly every week,” said Peters, 83, who became initially involved with the local association in 1976.

The major challenge for Peters and bowling center operators is keeping involvement at current registration levels.

“We’re down to 5,000 local bowlers from a high of around 8,000 15-20 years ago,” Peters said. “Participation has been going down since the mid-80’s when the lifestyles of people started to change.”

Peters said the number of leagues in Lee County have declined in half compared to the 1990s.

“We have 15 men’s leagues and just six women’s leagues but the interest in mixed league bowling has increased because it allows a couple to spent recreational time together,” he said.

“A lot of people will not make a 36-week commitment for league bowling, instead going out for an occasional recreational game that works with their lifestyle schedule,” he said.

Bowling attracts young people being introduced to the sport.

“Bowling has been a high school team sport for five years and the success has opened a lot of eyes,” Peters said. Boys and girls teams compete in the fall with South Fort Myers, Riverdale, Cape Coral, North Fort Myers, Ida Baker and Island Coast fielding teams.

“Participation has increased every year and I think the bowling on a high school level will be successful well into the future,” he said. “Like any other sport, it takes commitment to be successful.”

“Bowling can be played for life and you never get rained out,” he said.

The invention of the six new Bowland Centers of Southwest Florida mark a major change from the old models, incorporating new hybrid restaurants, game rooms and other entertainment features to attract the younger customer.

“We try and fit our sport in somewhere, knowing with youth for many nothing is long term, they’re always on the run somewhere,” Peters said. “The same holds true with older couples where social media is important.”

“Technology and equipment has improved,” he said. “New lane dressings make the ball easier to roll.”

Peters attended the national bowling congress in Las Vegas last week and competes in the national tournament in Reno this week, still seeking competitive success.

“I’ve cashed a few checks for placing well but never won anything, and this is my 32nd tournament,” Peters said.