NORTH BEND — Since the bowling boom of the late 1950s, North Bend Lanes has stood in the same place, offering a chance to roll a heavy sphere down an oil-laden lane to knock down some pins.
When current owner/operator Mark Mattecheck returned to North Bend with his family from Los Angeles about 25 years ago, there were 1,500 league bowlers. Now, there are just 600. So how does Mattecheck maintain a robust bowling community? By organically making bowlers from the time they’re children.
“How can you not help little kids roll a ball for the first time?” Mattecheck said.
Facing an overall economic downturn but also a declining bowling community, Mattecheck and North Bend Lanes needed to get youths back in the bowling center.
So Mattecheck got creative. He started programs to get kids interested in bowling. He started free lessons on Wednesdays. He started a high school program. During the summer, kids get two free games a day.
“We did a concerted effort to say, ‘Kids want something to do,’” Mattecheck said. “What we found was we hit kind of a nerve. The big nerve was the high school.”
The high school program works in conjunction with North Bend High School. North Bend Lanes provides the facilities and 6,000 free games and the school hosts an account that the lanes uses to fund it.
When Arianna Campbell arrives, Mattecheck knew he had to add some. Campbell, now bowling collegiately at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, was serious about pursuing bowling, but Mattecheck’s highest rated in-house coach was only rated Level 1 and needed more certification to teach more advanced skills and to follow Campbell to those higher tournaments. Mattecheck paid the $300 for the bronze training and $700 for the gold, and now there is a gold-rated coach at North Bend Lanes to work with anyone who’s around.
“Now we’re in really good shape to say, ‘You want to bowl in college?’” Mattecheck said.
Wednesday afternoon North Bend Lanes was packed with kids, so much so it was standing room only around the chairs and scoring tables. It was a free event for children to come and get free lessons.
Mattecheck didn’t advertise it at all. It was purely word of mouth, suggesting the interest the exists for such an opportunity. Some years ago, Mattecheck gave away balls in the hopes the kids would make use of them.
“I got the idea from cell phones,” Mattecheck said. “When they came out with cell phones at the start, you’d walk into AT&T — it wasn’t AT&T then it was something else — they gave you a free phone. ‘A free phone really? For me?’ And you start using that thing and you’ll never get rid of it.”
North Bend Lanes has had to pivot some to stay afloat. Its restaurant does better than the bowling alley, and less revenue comes from leagues than, say, birthday parties.
But the amount of interest in the high school program, the free lesson Wednesdays and the free summer games is creating new bowlers all the time. The organic creation of these bowlers is all due to Mattecheck and the effort North Bend Lanes puts in to reach out and grab kids who may or may not like bowling now.
“It’s a good deal. You have a competitive side and we have the fun side,” Mattecheck said. “We have a bunch of things and we keep busy. The world may change and bowling centers may go away, but we’ll go fighting and scratching.”