Mountain Area bowlers, volunteer coaches and parents were not happy to hear the recent news that Oakhurst's Sierra Lanes would close June 7. The bowling alley that has served the Mountain Area for the past 27 years, will be converted to a Grocery Outlet-Bargain Market scheduled to open in mid-October as announced by Steve Kuljis, president of Sierra Lanes, Inc.
Bob Day, Sierra Lanes youth director, oversees two leagues with more than 30 bowlers between the ages of five to 12 years old.
"I was shocked when I heard about the closing," Day said. "I was under the impression that Sierra Lanes would be here indefinitely. When I told the parents about it, many asked 'what are the kids going to do now?'
Day said there are close to 150 children with special needs from both Eastern Madera County and Mariposa that visit Sierra Lanes once a week to bowl.
"Now they don't have any place to go," Day said. "Bowling offered these children and young adults something they could be successful at and bowling made them all very happy."
Currently, nearly 500 adults and youth play in about 12 leagues at Sierra Lanes.
Day said some of the area's youth bowlers have the skills to receive college bowling scholarships for their education, including opportunities at Fresno State.
One such bowler is Danyn Terry, 17, a junior at Minarets, who has been named to the Northern California Youth Bowling Association All Star team the past five consecutive years. She is currently the junior Central California All Star.
She competed last weekend in Daily City against 70 girls in the 20 years old and under division in the Pepsi State Championship Tournament, finishing in the top 10.
She is working hard, including weight and fitness training, to attain her dream of playing for an NCAA college team after graduation next year from Minarets. And if not on full scholarship, she has received more then $12,000 in scholarships through the U.S. Bowling Congress, being held for her in a special college account.
Terry, with a 200 per-game average, has been selected to attend a three-day bowling combine in Arlington, Texas, in August to play before a number of college coaches. Like a football combine, Terry will be put through a number of physical and bowling drills to show her ability including shot repeatability, spare proficiency, release techniques and and speed control.
According to her mother, Careen, Danyn was going to begin practicing daily at Sierra Lanes once school was out in preparation for the combine.
"Now we will have to travel to Madera each day for eight weeks for practice -- a total of about 3,600 miles," Careen said. My daughter is committed to bowling and her college recruitment to an NCAA school rides on her opportunity to participate in the combine."
"I've been bowling at 'my house,' Sierra Lanes, since I was 11 years old," Danyn said. "hearing it was going to close made me sad and disappointed. Now we have to travel further to practice and that is going to cost us a lot for gas."
Michelle Piotrowski has served as a volunteer coach and high school bowling director at Sierra Lanes the past six years.
"I was angry when I first heard the bowling alley was going to close," Piotrowski said. "There's not much for kids to do up here and bowling was one of the few things parents could do with their children and now its going to be gone. You see grandparents and parents bowling with their grandchildren and children, along with seniors and young kids with their friends having a great time bowling. It doesn't matter how old your are or what your skill level is, anyone can have fun bowling."
Piotrowski said bowling provides physical activity, especially for seniors who have limited mobility.
"For many seniors, bowling is the only physical activity they get and without it, I'm afraid their health and quality of life will deteriorate."
Piotrowski's 15-year-old daughter Crystal, who has been bowling since she was three, is president of the youth league that bowls once a week at Sierra Lanes.
A junior at Minarets High School, Crystal said all the students in the league where hurt when they heard the news of the bowling alley closing.
"For most of the students in our league, this is our only sport and it's also a good social activity for us all when we get together to bowl," Crystal said.
Jerry Rust,72, of Oakhurst, received the Hall of Fame Award in 2011 from the Gateway U.S. Bowling congress, an association governing the sport in Madera and Mariposa counties. he has been bowling for more than 50 years and has provided his expert advice to young bowlers at no charge at Sierra Lanes. He estimates he has coached more than 150 bowlers over the past 11 years.
Rust said one of the problems was that the community was only given a month's notice about the closing.
At the time of the announced closing, Kuljis said plans are underway to build a new bowling alley near the existing building.
"This is a win-win for the community," Kuljis said recently. "Oakhurst is getting a great grocery store that will provide much-needed jobs and a new bowling alley. This move will enable us to relocate the bowling alley and bring it up to the standards our bowlers deserve. The bowling alley is the heartbeat of the community and the community deserves a better facility with better scoring equipment and a nice restaurant."
But some bowlers, including Rust, have voiced skepticism that a new bowling alley will ever be built in Oakhurst.
"The general perception is a new bowling alley will be built in late 2014, but I feel it is a little stretch of the imagination," Rust said. "The owners say a shell for the bowling alley will be built when they purchase the land and find an investor to come forward. It seems to me the odds of that happening in today's economy are slim to none."
Michelle Piotrowski "I hope the owners can prove us wrong and get a new bowling alley built by the end of 2014, but I have my doubts," Michelle Piotrowski said.
Kuljis said he is not surprised by the response to the closing of Sierra Lanes.
"Change is always difficult especially if your favorite activity is bowling," Kuljis said. "My message has remained constant through this transition. The message I have conveyed is we desire to build a new bowling alley. However, to make this a reality, we would need to locate a competent operator that has experience in the bowling and restaurant industry. In addition, this operator must be financially qualified. The operator is key to the entire transition. Their experience and financial capability are paramount."
Rust said there is a fellow bowler in town who is working on the idea of raising funds to get a piece of land to build a new bowling alley on.
"There are a lot of construction workers in the area that I'm sure would donate time to help build it," Rust said.
The original bowling alley was built in the late 50s on Highway 41 north of Oakhurst in what is now the Golden Chain Theatre. A group of Oakhurst residents who wanted to start a melodrama theater, pooled their money and bought the building in 1967.
The bowling alley at its current location on Junction Drive, was built in 1986 by Buddy Muller and John Waterman.
Oakhurst businessman George Sitts purchased the business in 1989 and sold it to Sierra Lanes, Inc. in 2006.
Sierra Lanes originally consisted of 24 lanes but was reduced to 12 lanes about 15 years ago.
Sierra Lanes is set to close June 7. The last event to be held there will be the Yosemite High Sober Grad party.