It has been 18 years since the unforgettable match between the Valley King Pins and the Pleasant Hill Strike Force and for the life of me I still can’t figure out how they fit 237 fans, plus several infants, into that four-lane bowling alley.
I was one of the lucky ones. Mary Ann Tinkersley and I were on our third "official" date that night, and like many others, we were rife with anticipation. My plan had been to buy two chili dogs, chips and sodas before the first game, but the line at the concession stand made that an impossibility.
Chester Fleenor, Valley Lanes owner, had anticipated a big crowd, but he never dreamed nearly 200 good folks of the Valley would show up, in addition to more than 30 fans who came to cheer on the Strike Force. He and his daughter, Kari Lynn, manned the stand alone, leaving Chester’s son, Phil, to oversee the equipment.
This was no night to have a problem with the pins or scoreboards. Too much was at stake and tempers would be too hot for mistakes.
There were three primary reasons for the huge turnout. First, everyone in the Valley had heard the story of Elbert Lee Jones taking on the entire foursome of Strike Force behemoths in an act of sheer bravery and loyalty to his home town. Even though it had been 20 years, the wounds were still fresh.
Second, Raymond Cooper’s return to anchor the bowling team brought out many of his loyal fans, eager to see their champion single-handedly run the evildoers from Pleasant Hill straight back from where they came. To the Valley faithful, the Strike Force team was anything but pleasant.
Third, there were those who thought A.J. Fryerson might show up. He was normally the anchor of the King Pins and if he was alive, he would surely make his way to Valley Lanes to lead his team to victory.
As the giant clock directly above the dividing line between lanes 2 and 3 struck 7 o’clock, it was clear to everyone A.J. wouldn’t be defending the honor of our town. There was an almost deafening roar as the Lennox Valley squad was introduced.
Earl Goodman was the first to wave to the crowd as his name was called and he would be the first to roll for the King Pins. Next was Perry Pratt, owner of Valley General Store.
In years past, Marvin Walsh would have been the third bowler introduced, but after his 65th birthday he turned the duties over to Billy Joe Drury. Billy Joe kept to himself mostly and was a bit gruff for someone who grew up in the Valley, but he was a good bowler and the fans cheered as he painstakingly raised his hand just above his waist.
The loudest cheers of the night were reserved for Raymond Cooper, wearing his orange-striped yellow shirt, which happened to be the school colors of the defunct Lennox Valley High School, along with an "aw shucks" smile while soaking in the adulation.
The crowd grew silent as Earl Goodman rolled the first ball, a "flat ten." In bowling lingo, that is a ball which knocks down all but the ten pin, leaving the six pin lying in the gutter. It felt as if the entire Valley cheering squad breathed a sigh of relief.
The first bowler for Pleasant Hill rolled a "flush," meaning all ten pins landed in the pit. Any experienced bowler knows a flush strike is technically perfect. The Strike Force loyals cheered in anticipation of a sweeping victory.
What happened next is secondhand information. The line to the concession stand had finally shortened to three deep and I made my way to buy those chili dogs and sodas. Just as I was handing $3 to Mr. Fleenor, I heard a deafening roar.
I turned to look, but everyone in the crowd was standing and yelling, keeping me from seeing what was happening.
The commotion continued for what seemed like several minutes, but probably lasted no more than 15 or 20 seconds.
By the time I made my way close enough to see what was transpiring, Billy Joe was lying flat on the ground and emotions ranged from concern for Billy’s safety, to jubilation among the Pleasant Hill crowd who sensed a forfeit, to bewilderment among the remaining members of the King Pins.
Harsh words were being exchanged between the two teams but the roar of the crowd drowned them out. Finally, the Strike Force gathered their equipment and walked out to a chorus of boos from Lennox supporters. Luckily no bowling balls were tossed at their heads.
Raymond made his way to the concession stand, taking Mr. Fleenor’s microphone in his hand.
"Be sure," Raymond said, "to pick up a copy of the Lennox Valley Patriot this Tuesday for a full report of what just transpired.
Iris Long, still in her seat just behind lane 4, dropped her reporter’s pad, briefly stunned.
"Tuesday," she whispered to herself, "One day before Hometown News."
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