Bowling league keeps seniors 'jolly'

Feb 10, 2016

Before he sends the ball down the lane, 86-year-old Leo St. Pierre has a routine. He circles the ball behind his back, tosses it into the air and catches it. Then he’s ready to go.

St. Pierre is one of 32 people in the Jolly Seniors bowling league that meets Thursday afternoons from September to May at Bowlmor.

The group is full of characters, welcoming, kind and a little bit competitive.

Within minutes of arrival, St. Pierre has delivered a freshly baked devil’s food cake to one couple and proceeded to bounce up and down with an imaginary jump rope in between hellos. Irene Couto greets everyone, including yours truly, with a kiss on the cheek. And Duffy Steliga starts cracking corny jokes.

Clearly their status as senior citizens has done little to slow down this bunch, who range from 60 to 94 and come from the tri-town as well as Fairhaven, New Bedford, Dartmouth and Tiverton, Rhode Island.

David Peirce of Fairhaven organizes the group. He and his wife, Beverly, were invited into the group about four years ago when then-organizer Ron Swistak saw them playing a few lanes down at Bowlmor. The couple had just ended a 30-year hiatus from duckpin bowling and took Swistak up on the offer. They’ve been Jolly Seniors ever since.

“We didn’t know a soul. Within two weeks it was like we’d been here forever. It was awesome,” said David.

Swistak has since passed away, but much of the roster has remained the same, with many bowlers now in their 10th year of membership. The bowling is, obviously, a crucial part of the league, but ask a Jolly Senior why they keep coming back and the first reason is always the other members.

“People come in right away and they’re accepted into the group,” said David.

The group takes up eight lanes and bowls in groups of four who rotate so everyone gets a chance to interact. And there’s no shortage of interesting people to interact with, but don’t expect many straight answers.

When asked about his bowling, Steliga doesn’t miss a beat. “I don’t want to brag, but it’s lousy,” he says.

At 94, Tony Oliveira is perhaps the eldest member of the group.

“When your daughter is in the league with you, you know you’re pretty damn old,” said Oliveira.

There’s some discrepancy about how he joined the league. He claims his daughter, Diane Borges, strong-armed him into attending the group several years ago.

“He made me come,” retorts Borges. Adding, “I’ll be happy if I can walk when I’m his age, much less if I can bowl.”

Fred Scott, better known as Scotty, joined the group about four years ago and, like the Peirces, didn’t know anyone. The septuagenarian hadn’t picked up a bowling ball for 50 years, but he said it’s good for his health.

Playing duckpin with a four-pound ball is much easier on the members than the traditional tenpin ball, said David, but “when they get up to the line to bowl, most of them are serious about bowling.”

There are trophies and cash prizes to be had for the winners each league season. Though some players, such as the No. 1 ranked Dick Weber, admit to being on the competitive side, they are also an encouraging bunch.

When someone bowls a strike or a spear, they’re met with fist pumps and cheers.

Said newcomer Sandy Tillett, “They’re all good people. It’s not cutthroat.”

So, it’s no surprise that the group rarely has an opening.

“We just like to do this, to talk together, to be together,” said Beverly.