by Father Mark Goldasich
We called ourselves “The Fantastic Five” and, for a few years, we were the scourge of the CCU. I’m not sure exactly where the name came from and I can’t even remember all the other team members. But I do know that we were good enough to win several national championships.
Never heard of “The Fantastic Five”? Well, I’m not surprised. We really weren’t that famous. I was part of this five-person bowling team that came out on top in the youth division several times in a row at the Croatian Catholic Union national tournaments held years ago.
What was most unusual was where we team members cut our teeth on the sport and honed our skills: It was right at our parish — St. John the Baptist on Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kan., which had six bowling lanes right underneath the auditorium. What is probably even more incredible is that the parish still has and operates those lanes, which first opened around 1925 as St. John’s Catholic Club.
Those memories came flooding back to me on Oct. 23 when I was at my home parish to do a wedding rehearsal for CJ Sheffler and Katie Jaksa. (Katie is the daughter of some childhood friends, Frank and Mariann Jaksa.) The rehearsal dinner was held in St. John’s Club. I don’t know when I was last in there, but as soon as I stepped through the doors, I was transported back in time. It’s not hard to stroll down memory lane at “the club,” as seemingly every square inch of wall space is covered with photos and other memorabilia.
Directly in front, staring me in the face, was the long bar, where over the years I’d consumed vast amounts of soda pop, potato chips, hamburgers and pretzels. And to the left, in all of their glory, were those six bowling lanes. Although some things had changed — like a new sound system and (presumably) new bowling shoes to rent — most was exactly as I remembered it.
After filling up my plate with Oklahoma Joe’s barbecue, I took a seat at the bar and chatted with bartender Kenny Yarnevich. It wasn’t long before he slid an envelope my way. I didn’t even have to open it; I knew what was inside. Like all members of the club, I was given my packet of 25 raffle tickets to sell by Thanksgiving for the annual kielbasa, turkey and money drawing.
As people finished eating, switches were thrown, a hum was heard and those six glorious lanes came to life. Everyone scattered to find bowling balls and shoes. I took it all in — the laughter, the anticipation, and the memories, both of bowling and of setting pins in the club’s pre-1968 automatic lane days.
“Hey, Father, you gonna bowl?” The words shattered my reverie.
“Nah,” I replied, “I’m content to just sit here and watch.”
And I did. For one game. Then I couldn’t stand it any more. “Kenny, could you please give me some size 10-and-a-half shoes?” I asked, as I scooted off in search of a bowling ball.
I wish I could report that I rolled two 300 games, to everyone’s amazement. All I can honestly say is that I did OK and didn’t embarrass myself too much.
The evening did remind me, though, of why I’ve always enjoyed bowling so much: It creates community. I bowled with Frank and his two sons, Frank and Matt, on lanes 5 and 6. Next to us on lanes 3 and 4 was the bridal party; other wedding guests filled lanes 1 and 2. As pins clattered, the air was filled with applause, encouragement and gentle teasing.
We older bowlers lamented how things have gone downhill with the younger generation. Without automatic scorers, these young pups were lost! So, we ancients took our familiar place at the scorer’s table, picked up the stubby pencils there (now, those actually might have been there since I was a kid!), and tallied things up by hand.
At the end of the night, though my arm was sore, my heart was content. It was comforting to know that the club — originally formed to give restless young men a place to gather that was safe, fun, and closely tied to the church — was still being true to its mission, providing both young and old, women and men, a positive social and recreational outlet.
It’s probably fitting that I was the last one bowling that night. I finished with a strike. As I unlaced my bowling shoes, I glanced around the club one more time, filled with memories and gratitude. Although my bowling scores were no longer “fantastic,” I realized that the club — and the community it provided during all the hours I spent there over the years — gave me something even more valuable: the skills I’ve needed to be successful in the game of life.