Mary Jane Ciraco may not be greatest bowler, but she represents what is great about sport



    By Dick Evans

    ColumnistDickEvans.jpg I have met many great bowlers in my life but none have impressed me more than Mary Jane Ciraco because of her love for the game and determination not to lose a bowling step as she moved around the country.

    To know Mary Jane is to know a 24/7 upbeat person who enjoys life to its fullest no matter whether it is on the golf course, the tennis courts, riding her horses, cooking, clogging at state fairs or bowling...especially bowling.

    I knew her when she was a suave administrative assistant to the president of Ryder Truck Rental in Miami, a happily married housewife in DeLand, Fla., before the death of her husband Domenick in 2003 and now a mountain girl in the beautiful northwest mountain area of North Carolina.

    She has a zest for and a zeal to bowl that the sport desperately needs. She is willing to drive miles on mountain roads to bowl in North Carolina and even Virginia. And more important she never leaves a bowling center with a negative attitude.

    Mary Jane is one of those rare individuals who has made a personal bowling mark in Topeka, Kan., Miami, DeLand, and now the northwest mountains of North Carolina because of her bowling personality, not just her bowling scores.

    She reminds me of the famous quotation: "When the one great scorer comes to write against your name, it matters not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game."

    Since 1960, Mary Jane Ciraco has been playing the game of bowling like a champion on and off the lanes.

    She bowls for fun and loves the game so much that she has proclaimed that bowling retirement is not in her lifetime game plan.

    When she turned 65 she threw a "bowling" birthday party for herself and invited 22 friends. They all had a blast because Mary Jane had a blast and she was footing the bill. They had so much fun they wanted her to throw a birthday party every six months.

    Amazingly, she has saved some of her best bowling for her Medicare years. In a summer league this year in Virginia, she finished with her personal highest average of 189. No wonder she has been winning singles, doubles and all-events titles in her age division at North Carolina's USBC tournaments.

    She must thrive in tournaments because her high series of 699 came in Florida's state WIBC tournament in 1972.

    Below she answers questions about a bowling career that got jump started when she had a date with a boy who took her bowling in Miami back in 1960.

    Among her answers are some insights into the great opportunities the USBC offers it senior bowlers, I think you will be surprised by her experiences at the national tournaments.


    QUESTION: "I understand that you own horses and are an avid rider and you also are a dancer and like to play tennis and golf so how do you find time to bowl since you drive so many miles to league/tournaments in North Carolina and Virginia?"

    "ANSWER: Bowling is a priority for me in line after my horses and dogs, so I just make time! If you want to do something bad enough, you have to find the time. I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to live in places where bowling was available and all the organizations and opportunities it presents (like Miami, Topeka (Kan), DeLand) so while I now live in a remote area, I knew how to find what I wanted from bowling...and I did.

    'While I may have to drive distances, it can be done. It's 30 to 40 minutes anywhere from where I live just to go to the grocery store! The closest large bowling center is in Winston/Salem (a little over an hour and 25 minutes down the mountain before you even get to an Interstate) "We have a nice center in Galax, VA , which is only about 35 minutes (mountain driving...about 15 miles from me)


    QUESTION: "How did you feel about bowling after your first bowling outing?"

    ANSWER: "I was invited to bowl (open bowling) at Playdium Lanes, Miami, FL in 1960 with a boyfriend who was an excellent bowler. Really enjoyed the game but wouldn't say I was "hooked" on it at that point...might have just been because of the boyfriend and it was a great date."


    QUESTION: "When did you start bowling in DeLand and how long did you bowl?

    ANSWER: "Started bowling in DeLand in 1984 and bowled there for 17 years before moving to North Carolina. Highlight of my bowling career while living in DeLand was being inducted into the West Volusia Women's Bowling Association Hall of Fame for Bowling Achievement in was a total surprise!"


    QUESTION: "Why did you pick bowling over tennis and golf, two sports you said you also enjoyed?"

    ANSWER: "Many reasons but specifically bowling is a wonderful sport available to anyone who is interested in it.

    "Bowlers are the most fun people I know and in all the years I've bowled all over the U.S., bowlers are pretty much the same everywhere especially the old time "classic" bowlers like me.

    "Bowling keeps me connected to a time that represented the best years of my life with whom I have made many lifelong friends, and even though we no longer bowl together nor even keep in close touch, they are never forgotten for all the good times we've shared."


    QUESTION: "What are the advantages, if any, and disadvantages in bowling in a mountain retreat like North Carolina?"

    ANSWER: "North Carolina is not all mountains, there are more areas without mountains than with them and very large cities like Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston/Salem, Raleigh, and east of us where bowling is quite popular and there are many excellent bowlers. Yes, bowling is still alive and well in North Carolina from what I can see!"

    "Bowling in my mountain area offers no advantages that I can think of. The only real disadvantage is the distance to drive to a bowling center...especially in the winter weather but we get around that with "no school, no bowl" plan and it works out fine."


    QUESTION: "Did you throw yourself a birthday party at a bowling center and how did it go over with your North Carolina friends?

    ANSWER: "When I turned 65 I threw myself a birthday party. It was great fun with pizza, sodas, birthday cake (made for me by a friend) and Rock and Roll Music (50's & 60's).

    "Everyone had a great time (only four guests out of 22 were under 50 years old, most were between 65 and 75 and a few were older! "After it was over, they wanted to know when we were going to have another one! (What's better than bowling, pizza and music that we grew up with????)"


    QUESTION: "What if any bowling offices have you held over the years in the various cities where you have bowled?"

    ANSWER: "President, vice-president, treasurer, director, historian in leagues and various bowling organizations (e.g. 600 Club, Fla. Bowling Queens) over the years in Miami and DeLand. Also was a National Delegate (WIBC) 1972 - 1977 (except 1975).


    QUESTION: "How did you get interested in tournament bowling and what were some of your best finishes?"

    ANSWER: "One thing led to another and pretty soon it was non stop whenever we could. Most fun was bowling in the Nationals with the same team for many years! A great way to see the United States!

    Best Finishes:
    1967 Singles champ Topeka (KS), Women's 600 Club
    1978 Greater Miami (FL) 600 Club Singles Champ
    1989 DeLand (FL) 600 Club Singles Champ
    1993 DeLand Women's Bowling Assoc. City Tournament Singles Champion
    1993 DeLand Women's Bowling Assoc. City Tournament All-Events Scratch Champion (tie).
    2008 NCS USBCA (N.C.) Senior Handicap State Championship Tournament All Events (65-69 Div.) Champion
    2008 NCS USBCA (N.C.) Senior Hdcp State Championship Tournament Doubles Champion
    2009 NCS USBCA Senior Hdcp State Championship Tournament Singles Champion and All Events Champion (65-69 Div.)
    2009 NCS USBCA Senior Hdcp State Championship Tournament. Doubles Champion
    Also: Medaled in Singles, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles in NC Senior Games both local and state finals 2005 to 2009."


    QUESTION: How you feel when you bowled in the Senior Olympics in Louisville and how were all the bowlers treated? Did you feel like a Senior Olympian?

    ANSWER: I bowled the Senior Olympics in Louisville, KY., back in 2007. Even though I only placed sixth, the top 8 won awards, and the top three won medals) I still felt like a champion and felt honored to be able to represent North Carolina in the National Senior Games,

    "IT WAS AN EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME. All the "Olympians" were treated like royalty by the wonderful people in Louisville. They really rolled out the "red carpet" for us and made us feel like real celebrities.


    QUESTION: "What did you think of the USBC Senior tournament you bowled in this year in Reno?

    ANSWER: "The USBC Senior Championships tournament in Reno was quite an experience. It was an honor to represent North Carolina and fun to be a part of the select few who qualified to participate. While I understand USBC's reasoning, I was disappointed that it was handicapped instead of scratch in age divisions at that level."


    QUESTION: "What other senior tournaments have you bowled in since you moved to North Carolina and were they fun?

    ANSWER: "North Carolina State Senior Tournament and Local Senior Games (and State Finals when qualified). Yes, they are always a fun time...we may not bowl as well as we think we should each time, but we ALWAYS have fun and meet nice people"


    QUESTION: "What are the aspects of bowling -- competition, friends, tournaments or lifetime values -- that have drawn you to bowling and why have you stayed so active?

    ANSWER: "I just love the sport of bowling! It's great exercise, good clean fun, socially satisfying, opportunity to travel and make new friends, promotes good sportsmanship and healthy competition.

    "It also keeps one matter how well you bowl, there's always 'that night' when you are brought back to earth and vow to do better 'next time' and on the other side, there's always that GREAT night where you can do nothing wrong. That's the one that keeps us coming back!

    "And, bowling is one game you'll never beat no matter how good you are! It's always a challenge. I just do the best I can on any given day.


    QUESTION: "When do you plan to retire from bowling?"

    ANSWER: "Retiring from bowling is not in my plan!


    QUESTION: "What is the one thing you would change about bowling if you could?"

    ANSWER: "Lower costs so more families can enjoy the sport. It's really getting a bit out of hand and everyone has a limit.

    "While bowling is not the most expensive sport, it may just price itself out of range for the average guy as have movie theaters, golf, snow skiing, and NASCAR to name a few."


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