The 2023-2024 Executive Board of the Dogwood Invitational Bowling Classic during a 9-pin no-tap event December 2, 2023, raising funds for the tournament and hosting a toy drive for Atlanta kids. From left: Martin Erbele (Secretary), Mike Tamburrino (Co-Director), Chas White (Co-Director) and Terri Paulk (Treasurer). / Courtesy photo

Pride and Pins

Atlanta’s bowling community seeks to grow this summer with accessible bowling camp

Every Easter weekend, gay and allied bowlers gather for the Dogwood Invitational tournament, the oldest International Gay Bowling Organization (IGBO) tournament and the largest in the Southeast. Bowlers exhibiting “anywhere from great to mediocre to terrible bowling” according to Martin Erbele, the secretary of Atlanta’s IGBO league, compete in singles, doubles, and team competitions, finishing off the weekend on Easter Sunday with a brunch and awards ceremony. This year, 232 bowlers from across the country and Canada came to Atlanta for a weekend of fun, competition, and community.

While this year’s tournament has passed, the summer offers an opportunity to become involved with Atlanta’s bowling community. Local bowling enthusiast and United States Bowling Congress certified coach Brian Gordon will be hosting a six-week bowling camp from June 1 to July 6.

“My mom and my dad bowled, so we took it up because they had,” Gordon told Georgia Voice. “My mom kind of coached us, so we joined the Junior League when I was a kid. When I joined the service — I joined the Air Force — I bowled while I was in the service, probably five days a week I bowled when I was in the service. I played football, basketball, and baseball, but bowling was the one that you can kind of do for the rest of your life.”

While Gordon has been bowling for almost his entire life, you don’t have to be a lifelong bowler to participate. The camp, which will be held every Saturday at noon at Bowlero Lilburn, is open to everyone: beginners looking for coaching, more seasoned players looking for some tweaking, those wanting to test some new equipment or techniques, or people looking for a fun, inexpensive Saturday afternoon activity. While bowling can get pricey (two hours at Bowlero on a Saturday afternoon costs $60 for two people), this commitment-free, drop-in camp costs $16 a person for three games.

“You can come and meet some people, see if you like it, and then see if you want to join the league later,” Gordon said.

While over 200 bowlers showed up for this year’s tournament, Atlanta’s bowling community has dwindled over the years. According to Erbele, what used to be upward of six leagues shrank to just two last year, and those two leagues will be merging into one this year. Both Gordon and Erbele are interested in growing Atlanta’s gay bowling community.

The Rainbow Humpers league begins in the fall and bowls on Wednesday nights at 7:15 at Bowlmor Atlanta. Both the league and the Dogwood Invitational tournament are handicapped, which means that lower-level bowlers will be given a boost in score based on the percentage of the difference between their bowling average and an established basis average — meaning anybody can win, regardless of skill or ability. Whether you consider joining the league or just dropping in for this summer’s camp, bowling offers an accessible opportunity to connect with others in Atlanta.

“I just think it’s a great all-levels, all-skills opportunity, regardless of your ability; the Dogwood tournament is a handicap tournament, and all of our leagues are handicap leagues,” Erbele said. “There’s no limitation on ability. You still compete, but it’s so much more than just the competition … It’s given my time in Atlanta really meaningful connection. I’ve met a lot of great people.”

To register for the summer bowling camp, contact Brian Gordon at briankgordon@gmail.com or 954-610-4916. To learn more about the Dogwood Invitational tournament, visit dogwoodbowl.org.