Adult league participation down in some sports, steady in others

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
— It used to be that people cemented relationships at weekly bowling.

Now, we make friends through the Internet.

That's one of the reasons that numbers are down in adult recreation leagues such as bowling, golf, darts and pool in Janesville and across the nation.

"Information suggests that there are some activities that have actually gained participants, but in general there is a decline," said Karen L. Barak, associate professor of health, physical education, recreation and coaching at UW-Whitewater.

"This is not just a U.S. situation. There have been papers out of England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand making the same report," she said.

It's been going on for about a decade.

"The number of bowlers has drastically dropped in the past 10 years," said Rebekah Wiser, manager of the South Central Wisconsin U.S. Bowling Congress Association, which has leagues in Janesville, Brodhead, Albany, Evansville, Edgerton and Milton.

Nearly 1,000 fewer men and another 1,000 fewer women bowl on leagues this season compared to 12 years ago, she said.

"We knew the numbers would be way down (this season) with all the businesses closing," Wiser said.

But bowling participation for both men and women has dropped consistently the past four years, Wiser's association records show.

"I guess it's just the rollercoaster of the sport, and I don't see it going back up," she said.


Janesville city softball leagues experienced their first loss of participants in 2001, when player numbers dropped by nearly 3,000. Although participation rose by about 1,600 the next year, it dropped again in 2003 and has continued dropping every year since.

In 2008, Janesville city leagues had 16,641 participants, said Cullen Slapak of Janesville's Leisure Services.

"I don't have a good feel for the trend. I have heard adult softball numbers have decreased nationwide, but I don't have any concrete numbers," Slapak said.

With the economy the way it is, Slapak said leisure services could see another decrease in 2009, "especially if area businesses don't sponsor teams and players have to come up with the money themselves."

On the other hand, he said, "there could be an increase because people are unemployed and looking for activities to stay busy."

Pool, dart and golf leagues in Janesville are faring better.


Michelle Finn plays on a dart league because it's fun, it's cheap and it's a recreational activity she enjoys sharing with her husband.

"It's just good, fun competition," the 38-year-old Janesville woman said.

The number of dart leagues in Janesville this year held steady at 77. That's up over 2007 and 2006, said Julie Bangs of Bullseye, Inc., Madison, which oversees dart leagues from Janesville to Beaver Dam.

"Surprisingly, they've stayed the same in Janesville," she said. "We were expecting the number to be down because of what's been happening in Janesville."

Bangs said the consistency in the number of leagues here is a reflection of the quality of dart league players in Janesville.

"Some of the best players in the world play out of Janesville," she said.


The number of teams in Janesville pool leagues rose last year and every year but one over the last eight years, said Dave Hakes of Allied Games, Beloit.

Allied Games runs Milton dart and pool leagues, Beloit pool and dart leagues and the Janesville Billiard League. The leagues include 243 pool teams and 100 dart teams.

"The downside is, we got our first call in January saying a team could not play anymore. Most of the team had lost their jobs and could not afford the night out," Hakes said.


The number of players at Riverside and Blackhawk golf courses in Janesville has been "fairly steady within the last five years," said Tom Tautges, general manager.

Since 2006, six leagues have been at Blackhawk and, since 2004, nine leagues at Riverside, Tautges said.

The only drop, Tautges said, was the number of golfers at Blackhawk between 2006 and 2007, when the number dropped from 330 to 285. He said that was the result of league players who lost their jobs at Gilman Engineering.


The cost, equipment and season length varies for adult recreational leagues. Here are some local examples:


Cost: $10 to $15 a week, including a prize fee.

Equipment: Ball and shoes. House balls are free. Those who buy their own ball can spend between $65 and $200. Shoe rentals average $2 per use but most league bowlers buy their own to save money.

Season: 33 weeks for weekly leagues; 16 weeks for every-other-week leagues.


Cost: $490 for each team of 20.

Equipment: Bat, glove and spikes.

Season: Fourteen games.


Cost: $5 per player per night for the prize fund plus the cost of the game.

Equipment: The game operator, usually a local tavern, provides the table, pool stick and chalk. Most players buy their own pool sticks that cost from $50 to $500.

Season: Typically last week in September through March, when tournament play begins.


Cost: About $7.75 each night of league play for 17 games.

Equipment: Most people buy their own set of darts that can start as low as $10.

Season: October through April.


Cost: Around $100 per person for a season of league play, depending on the league.

Equipment: Set of clubs that can be rented for between $10 and $15 for nine holes. Starter sets sell for $150 for woods and irons with an added cost for the bag.

Season: Starts at the end of April or early May and ends from mid-September to early October.

Last updated: 9:37 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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