Ayr’s Tenpin Bowlers Head to Helsinki

Gill Sherry

The atmosphere is buzzing when I arrive at LA Bowl in Miller Road, Ayr. All 16 lanes are in use, not surprising during a busy half-term week in February.

I’m here to talk to owner and coach, Julia Claxton, who has plenty to boast about, not least the fact that her grandchildren, Isla (13) and Aaron Claxton (17), have been selected to play for Scotland at the Tenpin Bowling European Youth Championships in Helsinki.

We’re joined by Ronnie Scott whose daughter, Sarah (12), has also been selected along with Kelsi Cuthbert (17) and Ben Wallace (13).

“There are eight going to Helsinki to represent Scotland,” Julia informs me, “and five of them are from here in Ayr.”

The bowlers will be competing against 27 other countries at the tournament for under 18s which is being held at the famous Tali Bowling venue in Finland from 23rd March until 1st April.

The five youngsters, who all train at Ayr’s LA Bowl, have successfully competed in tournaments for under 18s or under 12s, receiving points which ultimately led to their inclusion in the Scottish team.

“They’re so experienced for their age,” says Ronnie. “They’ve all competed in Triple Crown events as well. The last one was an extended Triple Crown… it was Scotland, Ireland, England and Belgium.”

In fact, the youngest girls, Sarah and Isla, are the most experienced bowlers in the team.

“Sarah and Isla met each other at nursery,” continues Ronnie, “and have bowled pretty much since the age of four. But they’re all very dedicated. They practice maybe four or five times a week. They do two adult leagues and Saturday and Tuesday coaching.”

Julia’s son, James, is also a coach at the club (one of only two Level 3 coaches in Scotland) and both will be travelling to Helsinki along with other other coaches and parents.

“We’re all really looking forward it,” Ronnie tells me. “It’s one of the pinnacle events. It’s such a good experience for them. It’s a great adventure.”

He adds: “We’re actually really lucky because we’ve got such a good bowling centre with such good conditions and such good coaches. The kids are really lucky to have such a good team and a good place to come. And it’s on our doorstep, that’s a massive plus.”

Julia is nodding her agreement and must take credit for the continued success of LA Bowl in Ayr.

“I’ve been manager here for 30 years,” she informs me, “and we’ve owned it for 13 years. It’s a family business.”

She has also completed her European Tenpin Bowling Federation (ETBF) Level 2 coaching qualification, another plus for Ayr’s young bowlers. I ask her to tell me more about what is described as ‘the complete entertainment centre’ in Ayr.

“We have a club on a Saturday morning and an after-school club on a Tuesday. We call ourselves Jedi Bowling Club. The children can come between 10 and 12 on a Saturday morning for coaching with James, myself and several other very good coaches.”

The Jedi Bowling Club is supported by two sponsors: Ayr Installations and Test My Electrics. Their support allows Julia to keep entry fees low and to encourage as many children as possible to continue to play.

“We’ve got a club with over 30 children. It’s nice for the kids to have something to do and not be out on the street. It’s good for them physically and mentally.”

We talk for a while about the benefits of tenpin bowling and agree it’s a great way for kids to make new friends and to build confidence, as well as being excellent from a physical fitness point of view.

“We don’t allow phones during the coaching,” says Julia. “I think it’s good for them to have something good in their life.”

In addition to the excellent bowling facilities, LA Bowl also has a Lazerzone, pool table, amusements, a bar and diner.

“We also do a lot of birthday parties. Sometimes on a Saturday we have ten birthday parties!”

It’s obviously the place to be!

Back to the bowling, I ask Julia how competitive the five youngsters are.

“They’re competitive but not in a way where they’re not a team. Quite often you find with kids they’re not wanting their teammates to do well. I can honestly say that doesn’t apply to the kids here. They are a team and they support each other.”

“They encourage each other, that’s for sure,” adds Ronnie. “And they blow me away with their focus and determination. The team spirit is unbelievable.”

Despite their differing ages, all five team members get on really well and are obviously extremely proud to be going to Helsinki. It will, however, be an expensive trip. Julia elaborates: “Scottish Tenpin Bowling, our governing body, do contribute. They pay for their entry fees and the coach’s fees, but the children’s parents have to fund hotels, flights, transport, and food for the ten days.”

Needless to say, they are all busy trying to raise money for the trip. Fundraising events have included a bingo night, bag-packing and raffles and, at the time of our conversation, they are looking forward to a night of musical entertainment at The Balgarth Pines. But Julia can help in other ways too.

“The ones that are old enough, I try to give them a job. That way they can help fund themselves. And there’s nothing better than someone who’s good at bowling working at a bowling centre, because they care.”

They are also perfectly placed, as ambassadors of the sport, to attract other youngsters to take part. But tenpin bowling is for everyone of all ages and abilities, as Julia confirms: “We have groups that include adults with special needs. James coaches them… I love that!”

And all 16 lanes are fitted with bumpers, lightweight balls and ramps which means that every member of the family can join in the fun!

For those who take it more seriously, like the five Ayrshire youngsters who will be representing their country, the equipment is of particular importance.

“They have their own balls,” confirms Ronnie. “Again, we’re very lucky because James can actually drill all of the equipment to the specifications of each individual. It’s very technical.”

“James runs our comprehensive Pro Shop and is actually the only qualified ball driller in Scotland,” adds Julia, clearly very proud of her son, and also of the fabulous service they are able to offer at Ayr. This service, together with the excellent facilities and dedicated coaches has no doubt helped each of the five youngsters on their journey to Helsinki. Not forgetting their own talent and commitment.

“I think I can probably speak for most of the kids,” says Ronnie when I ask what it means to Sarah to be representing her country at tenpin bowling. “They just love bowling. They would bowl all night. They just want to bowl, bowl, bowl.”

That’s because it’s fun, fun, fun!

“Sarah and Isla became friends and started bowling at such an early age,” says Julia. “We still have videos of them bowling when they were tiny. It’s amazing.”

Soon there will be videos of them bowling for Scotland in Helsinki. How great is that?

LA Bowl is open from 10am until late Tuesday to Saturday, from 11am on Sundays and from 1pm on Mondays (or 10am during school holidays).

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