Hand sanitizer and hitting pins, how the Jacksonville bowling community has been affected by COVID-19

John Watson, Sports Editor

Throwing balls, making spares and having fun with your friends are somethings that people come to enjoy when they go to a bowling center. However, 2020 had other plans for such activities as bowling lanes across Jacksonville were forced to shut down and for a moment, it seemed as though bowling never existed.

Before 2020 ever started, the Jax bowling community had been shocked when a local family-owned center called Beach Bowl abruptly closed its doors for good after 50 years in the community. 

According to an Action News Jax article, the closure was due to a long court battle in which the landlord ultimately won. The owner of Beach Bowl, Miles Batt, said that the landlord was going to use the space for other purposes. 

If anyone had a party booked before the alley closed, the party would be transferred to their Westside location at Batt Family Fun Center.

The Batt Family Fun Center (BFFC) is located about 30 minutes west of the famed Beach Bowl and has been open for business since July. While Beach Bowl ceases to exist, the sister location on Cassat Blvd. is now coming back to full operation after being closed indefinitely due to COVID in March of 2020. 

During the early weeks of the pandemic when bowling centers were still open but cautious, the team then noticed that there were mixed feelings of shutting down immediately or continuing to bowl. Just weeks later, they were forced to shut down.

I talked with one of the BFFC managers/ professional bowler, Douglas Fitzgerald, and he said that as their business reopened, people kept sprinkling in and coming back.

“There was a time when bowling as a whole kind of stopped,” Fitzgerald said. “As bowlers, like competitive bowlers, they were itching to come back. The actual business that we get from open bowlers like lights-off cosmic bowling that really didn’t start coming back. Right now, it’s picking back up to a point where it was.”

Fitzgerald shared that when the team was preparing for bowlers to return, bleach was used to disinfect a lot of the surfaces and Clorox wipes were widely used. As a shortage of hand sanitizer caused a national stir, the center was prepared as they had enough stock in the back to supply the center.

As the center was waiting for governor Ron Desantis to reopen sporting facilities in Florida, they wanted to be prepared to be open for business.

“Right as we went into Phase two, this center reopened just like that,” Fitzgerald said. “Then you had a lot of people saying it’s not the right time, but we took all the precautions the state wanted us to take and they approved us to reopen.”

Now, the center is back to hosting tournaments, weekly league bowlers and people who just want to throw the ball with their friends. I spoke with a few of the league bowlers on their Thursday night “Jax Thumpers” four-man leagues and most said that bowling hasn’t changed much from pre-pandemic to now. 

The most common response was the use of facemasks in centers. BFFC abides by the city-wide mask mandate and you must wear a mask when you are not actively bowling. When you are on the approach, you may take your mask off and throw your ball, but you must put it back on when you return to your seating area.

Derek Freitag, one of the league members who I talked to, had just gotten back into bowling after being one of the top junior bowlers in Florida years ago. Now he says that bowling is a bit different than it used to be.

“Before it was a lot easier to get in and out of the tournaments and get into the actual bowling alley,” Said Freitag. “But, the restrictions don’t really change it as much as you think it would.”

As for the mask policy, Freitag has noticed that different centers have different policies regarding when, where, or how masks must be worn.

“The center that we’re actually in right now only requires you to wear a mask in the building, but when you’re on the approach you can take it off,” Freitag said regarding different mask policies. “I’ve been in other centers where they actually require that you take it off when you leave.”

For many bowlers, the mask policies are somewhat challenging, but the common theme in the Jacksonville bowling community is that they are glad to see the bowling centers back open, even if they have to wear a mask on or off the approach.

As many centers in states like California and New York continue to remain shut down due to state policies, Jacksonville bowlers are benefiting from Florida’s relaxed COVID policies. For now, the centers will remain open and pins will continue being knocked down.


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