For eight years, Irina Goldsmith has been taking her children, Jaxson, 12, and Payton, 10, to the youth duckpin bowling league at AMF Pikesville Lanes. This year, she said, league members will be traveling to the Westview lanes or dropping out entirely.
No one is more surprised about this change than the league members themselves.
The Pikesville Youth League has a strong history with AMF Pikesville Lanes. It has been playing there for more than 30 years, most recently from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoons. At least one of the teams, made up of participants from Owings Mills, Pikesville, Randallstown and Reisterstown, has won the state championship the past four years. However, due to operational changes at AMF and AMF’s recent merger with Bowlmor Lanes, scheduling arrangements have become increasingly complicated.
Last year, Goldsmith said, parents were told that the league could no longer continue with the 1 p.m. slot. Instead, the center wanted to accommodate birthday parties that would begin at that time. According to Goldsmith, the center informed parents that the only way the youth league could continue at Pikesville is if it began at 9 in the morning.
This news split up the league, as the older and more experienced bowlers left to join other leagues. Goldsmith’s children went to AMF Westview Lanes, where they could bowl in the afternoon.
“We tried to do different things to stay at Pikesville because the league at Pikesville is so popular,” said Goldsmith. “We tried to change it to 11 a.m. instead, but to the AMF Center, it was either 9 in the morning or forget it.”
Over time, Pikesville altered that decision, deciding to allow the league to bowl at 10 a.m. during the upcoming 2013-2014 season, as long as it finished by noon.
Many parents were happy to come back, even for an earlier time.
“Those who had left agreed to come back this year,” Eric Ball, a coach on the league, explained. “Even though it wasn’t the best time option, it was better to stay together. After four state wins and traveling together, the families had really bonded.”
With the expectation of reassembling the original league members, parents were startled to find out that AMF backtracked and decided to close out the Saturday youth league entirely.
Just a few weeks before the league was to begin at the end of August, the center’s manager at Pikesville informed AMF volunteer youth coordinator, “Miss Beth” Schlein, about the change via email. Schlein was told that the center would be opening at 11 a.m. and would no longer be able to accommodate the leagues; leagues wouldn’t be finished by noon, the time designated for parties and “open bowling,” which is casual bowling outside of a league. The decision displaced the Pikesville youth league and adult special-needs leagues.
Now, of the 40 bowlers in the original youth league, only about 15 will continue to bowl in other leagues.
“What I would really like is for them to open the center one hour earlier because it’s not just the youth league, but the special-needs leagues that are also getting displaced,” said Goldsmith.
Gregg Nichols, the area’s district manager for AMF Bowling Centers, denied that the league was being shut out but did not return calls.
Chad Waetzig, chief marketing officer of Bowlmore AMF, explained in an email that the merger between the two companies took place as AMF was struggling financially. As a result, certain operational changes had to be made that could not accommodate all the leagues.
“In many locations, we’ve adjusted our operating hours during nonpeak times, which have impacted some leagues,” Waetzig wrote. “In many situations, we have been able to accommodate leagues with our new schedules. Regrettably, some leagues we were not able to accommodate.”
Schlein, who has volunteered for AMF Pikesville for 28 years, understands that there may have been financial motivations for the changes at Pikesville. But she also believes that more open communication from the management might have prevented the scheduling confusion and disappointment.
“It’s just really sad that no one wants to stand up and talk to people face-to-face,” Schlein said. “You aren’t always going to get your way, and things aren’t necessarily going to change, but if the management doesn’t keep the line of communication open, they are going to shoot themselves in the foot.”
For Goldsmith, these changes at Pikesville represent a shift in priorities.
“The corporate bowling philosophy is changing” Goldsmith said. “It’s a shame that Pikesville would lose the chance to instill the love of bowling in dozens of youth and to cultivate their business.”