Lawn Bowling Keeps Players for Life

The Challenging, Genteel Sport of Lawn Bowling

Pearl Slauterbeck (left), Jo Millett, and Carol Smith have been active for decades at the Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club.

Paul Wellman

Pearl Slauterbeck (left), Jo Millett, and Carol Smith have been active for decades at the Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club.

At the 80th-anniversary celebration of the Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club last month, club president Sharron Adams described the year-round activity on the downtown greens as “a challenging and genteel sport.” No lawn bowler has ever been known to talk trash or offensively mock an opponent like a certain Houston baseball player. “I’ve never found a nasty bowler,” Jo Millett said. “The people are so nice here.”

The easygoing nature of the game precludes the possibility of burnout. Lawn bowlers rarely retire. In the case of Millett, Carol Smith, and Pearl Slauterbeck, even serious medical setbacks have not kept them off the greens. They are known as the “Never-Give-Up Girls.”

Smith, who turns 90 in December, has been a bowling stalwart since the late 1960s, when she was the city’s adult recreation supervisor. “My boss, Bill Bertka, insisted I learn to bowl,” she said. The club, located on De la Vina Street between Victoria and Anapamu, named the Carol Smith Greens in her honor in 2010.

Two years ago, Smith suffered a stroke. An important part of her recovery was to return to lawn bowling. “She surprises me all the time,” said Josie Velasquez, her caregiver. Smith accepts some assistance getting onto the green, and then her years of practice click in as she sends four weighted balls rolling toward the jack, a smaller ball that is the target.

Millett, 87, had also been sidelined by a stroke a few years earlier. After being active for decades, the fifth-generation Santa Barbaran was content to watch the lawn-bowling action ​— ​participants of all ages are members, though the majority are mid-lifers ​— ​until one day Smith said, “Why don’t you join me?” They become a trio with the addition of Slauterbeck, 86, a veteran of lawn-bowling trips to Australia and Spain. She is a breast-cancer survivor and also has multiple sclerosis.

The women get together at the club every Tuesday and Thursday to engage in a “three for all,” their own modified competition.

Bertka, who was the city’s recreation director and part-time college basketball scout in the ’60s, before the Los Angeles Lakers hired him as an assistant coach, is gratified to hear that Smith and her cohorts are still rolling along. “We encouraged activities for all ages,” he said. “Any sport that keeps them moving is good. My mother was a lawn bowler until she died at 97.”

Bertka turned 90 himself last August. The Lakers have retained him all these years, during which he has collected 10 NBA championship rings. He still commutes from Santa Barbara to L.A. every week. “They call me a special assistant and consultant,” he said. As for this year’s team, he said, “It’s at a formative stage with a lot of nice young pieces.”

Kershocked

As I write this, I don’t know how the World Series will turn out. But I am sure that last Sunday’s Game will go down as one of the epic baseball games in history. It was a roller-coaster ride that thundered for more than five hours, intermittently lifting a team to exultation or plunging it into despair. It began with two estimable pitchers on the mound and turned into a frenzy of homers and doubles, with a crazy triple thrown in, and ended with Alex Bregman’s single sending a pinch runner home in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 13-12 Houston victory.

The wonderments abound. Why was Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw unable to seize the moment? What happened to their once-reliable bullpen? Are the balls juiced, or are the hitters that good?

As far as the bullpen goes, the stress of pitching in the World Series wore down the arms that L.A. manager Dave Roberts had used so liberally but effectively during the regular season and early in the playoffs. The trouble began in Game 2, an 11-inning mishmash that was just a preview of Sunday’s blockbuster. Yu Darvish’s short stint in Game 3 forced the relief hurlers to work long and hard to keep the Dodgers in the hunt. They had to come through again late in Game 4 to preserve the win for Alex Wood (and who would have expected the team’s fourth starter to be so masterful?). But after Kershaw faltered, Roberts asked the same men to put out the fires, and the third time was no charm. Kenta Maeda was burned by Houston mighty mite José Altuve, Brandon Morrow endured a conflagration in the seventh inning, and Kenley Jansen was unable to contain the Astros after the Dodgers rallied heroically to tie the score in the ninth.

“Those guys couldn’t eat right-handed, let alone throw a pitch,” observed Bill Pintard, the Santa Barbara Foresters manager. “If the Dodgers lose the Series, people will look at Roberts’s use of the pen.”

Baseball is an expectation-defying sport. For every sure thing, there is an absolute surprise. That is the maddening beauty of it. I’ll always remember Vin Scully’s great anecdote about one of the most heartbreaking episodes in Dodgers history. He was a youngster on the club’s broadcasting team in 1951 when Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit an improbable three-run homer, known as the “shot heard ’round the world,” to steal the pennant away from the Dodgers. Scully was dispatched to the clubhouse after the game. He saw Ralph Branca, who had given up Thomson’s homer, prostrate on the steps. In the training room, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson were on separate tables. As Scully told it: “All of a sudden Pee Wee said, ‘You know, Jackie, what’s always amazed me?’ And Jackie said, ‘What, Pee Wee?’ And he said, ‘After all these years, that this game hasn’t driven me crazy.’”

Homecoming Weekend

Besides playing for league championships and postseason playoff berths, three high school football teams will celebrate homecoming festivities this week. The Santa Barbara Dons need a win over Buena on Thursday night, November 2, at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium to secure a top-two spot in the Channel League. Dos Pueblos, which clinched at least a tie for the title by defeating the Dons 31-19 last week, will go for its ninth straight win at home Friday night against San Marcos. Also Friday, the top-ranked (CIF Division 6) Bishop Diego Cardinals will try to go 10-0 in a Tri-Valley League showdown against Grace Brethren at La Playa. SBCC will also have a homecoming when the Vaqueros host L.A. Pierce in a 1 p.m. football game Saturday, November 4. At halftime, Santa Barbara’s 1982 Mission Bowl championship team will be honored. They will be joined by other players from the ’70s and ’80s in a postgame barbecue and reunion at the Carriage Museum. Call 646-9657 for information.

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