For most of us, the bowling alley is a cheaper version of the amusement park, where the sounds of beeping arcade games, crashing pins and dropping balls merge with the smells of pizza, hotdogs and cigarette smoke.
Director of Institutional Research Michelle Smith (B.S. ’91, M.S. ’92), however, is not like most of us. For Smith, who was inducted into the Charleston Women’s Bowling Association Hall of Fame last March, the bowling alley is the playing field where she meets friends and rivals for practice and competition.
“Most of my friends are bowlers,” she says, carefully painting her right thumb with Super Glue to keep it from getting tender and then drying her hand at the ball return. “That’s how it’s always been for me.”
A bowler by age 6 and in a league by age 8, Smith “literally grew up” in the Charleston Air Force Base bowling center. As a youth bowler, she consistently bowled the highest series in the state, holding state records and winning medals year after year. At the age of 17, she was the first female to bowl a 600 series at the base’s bowling center, and her name is still on its Wall of Fame.
“I took it so seriously back then,” Smith admits, choosing one of the three balls with custom-drilled finger holes from her wheeled, black-and-silver bowling bag. “I don’t think of it as something that I have a lot riding on now, so I’ve been able to relax. That’s actually helped me bowl better.”
Don’t let Smith fool you. She still takes bowling seriously and is still very competitive. She bowled the highest series in all of South Carolina for the 2005–06 season, was tournament champion at both the February and June 2006 Ladies Palmetto Scratch Tournaments and is one of two females in the Greater Charleston Bowling Association to bowl an 800 series. She bowled her highest game (299) just last fall and is currently training for her third trip to the U.S. Bowling Congress Women’s Championships and her first trip to the Queens Tournament, both of which will be held in Charlotte this spring.
“I guess I’d say I’m at a high point in my career,” Smith says. “I’m happy with where I am, but I’m always improving and I can always do better.”
That said, Smith turns toward the lane, makes her approach and releases the ball with the ease and technique of a practiced and skilled bowler. With all the pins down, she turns back and smiles: “I wouldn’t keep bowling if it weren’t still fun.”