A Spare Life: Zach Arth’s Inside World of Wednesday Night Bowling

Most college professors are eager to go home after a long day teaching and holding office hours. Most will wonder home subconsciously under the Poughkeepsie sunset. 

This does not apply to professor Zachary Arth. 

The Spins Bowl parking lot is unusually crowded on Wednesday nights. People of greater generations are rolling in with suitcases as if they’re headed on short vacation. Soon enough, you’re surrounded by personal bowling ball cases, towels, finger hole tape, hand braces, and bowling shoes. Not only that, the aroma of fried food, drinks, and old-timer smell consumes you.

Is this an extreme high school reunion? Close enough.

Thirty-nine men and one woman — some in their 70s and some as young as their 20s — congregate each week to compete in the John DiMarco DC Classic League. Among them is the man who the league is named after. After beating the odds and surviving heart disease, DiMarco is still playing in the league for his namesake. 

Arth is new to the Marist College staff, having only joined the sports communication department in the fall of 2019. He could not be torn away from the sport he grew up playing in Buffalo, New York. It’s part of the culture up there. In the words of Arth, it’s the “bowling hotbed.”

“This environment is what I grew up in. When I was five years old my dad was in a bowling league on Monday nights,” Arth said. “He would pick me up from school and we’d go to the bowling league. So this has always been what I’ve wanted. I feel like I’ve made it. Full circle.”

Arth competed on his high school bowling team and began playing in leagues while completing his undergrad at the University of Buffalo. Taking a hiatus from the sport while obtaining his PhD at the University of Alabama, Arth is back in the game.

“When I moved here I told my landlord ‘Hey, do you know anybody who’s in a bowling league?’ and I was like half-joking,” Arth explains. “He was like, ‘oh yeah, my friend bowls in one.’ I was like, alright cool, so he set me up with his friend, and he was like ‘yeah come to the meeting.’”

Nerves consumed the sports communication professor during the first week of the league. It works like a fantasy football draft, with the top ten scorers each drafting their own teams. The problem with this was that the league had never seen Arth bowl before. 

They especially had not seen his form. 

“So I’m backwards. Like 0.1% of bowlers land on the wrong foot. It’s my dad’s fault. I wasn’t taught to land on the wrong foot, but my dad, when he was teaching me, he taught me timing, like where you release the ball in your swing,” Arth said. “He didn’t realize I was landing on the wrong foot. By the time he realized it, I didn’t want to change. I was consistent and I was comfortable with it. I tried once in my life to change when I was probably 10 or 11 and I wanted to quit bowling immediately so he was like alright leave him alone. Let him go.” 

Multiple people in the league commented on his incorrect form; Arth was the talk of the new season. “He was actually one of the first ones in the second round, because everybody was sleeping on him,” said Varrick Goss, Arth’s teammate who has been living in Poughkeepsie for 40 years, 32 of which he has spent bowling in this league. “And he was like 223. I was like let’s get him, let’s get him.” 

In the beginning weeks of the season, Arth was averaging about 250 per game, but in the words of Goss, he came “back down to earth,” but is currently bowling very well.

“What this sport is, it’s about the equipment, the tools and stuff that you bowl with, and he got a couple of new balls. Sometimes you go through a period of time where you’re trying to get used to the balls, so they don’t move correctly for you, you’ve got to make sure the holes in them are right,” Goss explained. “Last week, he bowled like a high 760, 770, which is excellent. And he’s already on a double, but you’re gonna see what he does. He is the man.”

Wipe the bowling ball with a towel fluidly, wipe the shoes with the hands, set up, two wide strides, and go off on the wrong foot. This is Arth’s routine and it has proven to work for him, holding a personal season-high score of 299, narrowly missing the perfect 300.

“If you watch me bowl enough you’ll see that I’m forever wiping down the ball, forever wiping off my shoes before I throw. The shoes are kind of like I don’t want to slip or stick because it’s all sort of one fluid motion,” Arth said. “I was like ‘Oh shoot, I’m around all these good bowlers, and my team is gonna be like, why’d we pick this guy? He doesn’t know what he’s doing out there.’ And then I shot 299. That was the best I did all year.”  

Despite his great talent for the sport, Arth tends to keep this hobby on the down-low. The same goes for his job. 

“I had no idea that he was a professor. I thought he was like a rock and roller or something like that,” said Rich Schroeder, another member of the league who has been bowling in the league for 38 years. “When he told me he worked at Marist, I just kind of laughed at him, because my son graduated from Marist last year and my daughter is there this year, so I just got a kick out of it.”

“I love it because there’s no way to make being good at bowling cool because it’s the most uncool thing you could be good at and it fits my personality so much. It’s definitely one of those things where like, you know, I don’t just share it with anybody,” said Arth. “But here it’s fun because I switch roles, the fact that I’m a professor is on the DL. The general crowd here is not college professors. It’s a bunch of blue-collar folks. So it’s more fun to be just one of them.”

The blue-collar and old-school aspect of the league is truly enjoyed by all. It’s not just a league, but a culture. 

“I would describe them as the salt of America or salt of the earth people. That’s always my favorite part of the fact that anyone could be good at it, it doesn’t matter what size, age, whatever,” said Arth. “It’s a blue-collar version of real America just in a bowling alley.” 

In the John DiMarco league, there are 10 teams with 40 players. Every Wednesday, the league comes together to play three games. At the end of each season, the top three teams win a money prize. Currently, Arth’s team is sitting in fifth place, hoping to work their way up.

“We started out really good, then we didn’t win at all for like a month and a half. And then we’ve sort of leveled off, and now we’ve had a few good weeks in a row,” Arth said. “Fingers crossed that keeps going. So we’ll see.”

There are two types of bowling leagues. First, there are handicap leagues, which involve trying to make everyone even. It’s based on the percentage of the difference between one’s average and a base average. On the other side, there are scratch leagues, which is simply you get what you get. It does not involve any math besides adding up the pin counts.

In other words, it’s the real way to bowl. The raw way.

This league is the only scratch league in the Hudson Valley. “The best bowlers in the area are here in this league,” said Schroeder.

“What’s actually probably most unique about this league is that it’s a scratch league. There are not a lot of them around anymore,” said Patti Tenyenhuis, the only woman in the league. “I honestly don’t know why.”

Tenyenhuis has been bowling for 36 years, following her parent’s footsteps, specifically her mother’s who was one of the top bowlers in the Saugerties area. This is only Tenyenhuis’ fourth year in the league and as the only woman, she is proving herself worthy with a higher average than of 209, better than 56% of the league. 

“I’m a bowler. It’s not about gender. I’m a bowler, I’m a competitive bowler,” Tenyehuis said. “For me, it’s about having the competition and unfortunately in this area, there’s not a lot of women competition. Not at this level, not at the 200 average and higher level. Go up to the Albany area there’s a lot more.”

Each year, Tenyenhuis goes up to Rutland, Vermont to bowl in a tournament. She has been featured on television up in the local Albany area. Tenyenhuis has won a women’s singles tournament up there twice, and she’s clinched a doubles tournament twice. The 2009 New York State Queens Champion has had 13 300 games and three 800 series. 

Tenyenhuis gives the 39 men a run for their money. 

Spins on Wednesday nights is simply a night for people coming together for the love of a sport. “I like that it’s an individual sport. Even though we are on teams, there’s four bowlers on a team here. It’s a team sport, but it’s an individual sport because only I can get up there and throw a shot and hope the pins fall,” Arth said. “No one else has any impact on what I do. I always liked that part. I like that you make a good shot and hope it works out.”

Shooting his shot, even with the wrong foot in motion, has proved to be effective for Arth. 299 is not bad for a first season-high for the new Poughkeepsie resident. 

Rather than with his head hung low and trudging to the parking lot to drive home on Wednesday nights, Arth excitedly leaves his office with pep in his step and his bowling shoes slung over his shoulder. 

A sports communication professor by day, a professor in bowling by night.

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