Julie Heath didn’t want to be a pioneer, just a better bowler.
By competing in several Inland Empire Bowling Association tournaments, however, Heath not only sharpened her skills, but helped pave the way for women bowlers in the Spokane area.
Prior to last year, IEBA-sanctioned tournaments were limited to men. But a rule change by the American Bowling Congress allowed women to join and compete with men beginning in 1994.
It was a moment Heath had long awaited.
“I know Jim Allen, the guy that runs the IEBA tournaments (in Spokane), and I had bugged him for a couple of years because the women around here don’t really have anything to bowl competitively,” Heath said. “Then, last year, he came and said, ‘Well, they changed the rules, so if you get an ABC card, I can’t stop you.”’
Heath got her card, and soon after became the first local woman to bowl in the IEBA.
“It was kind of intimidating,” she said of that initial experience. “The second game I bowled a 250 and everybody was joking, ‘We’re not going to let you bowl anymore.’ I just kind of laughed at them.”
Heath eventually cooled off and missed the cut in her first tournament, but in October 1994, she bowled a 278 and set three city records while teaming with her husband Sean and friend, Lyle Elo, in a tournament at Silver Lanes.
Other local women bowlers began to follow Heath’s lead. Kathy Thomas, Paula Hendzel and Heath’s sister-in-law, Tracy, have since bowled in the IEBA, and Heath said more may be on the way.
The challenge of bowling against men is appealing to many women, according to Heath.
“It’s just a lot more competition,” she explained. “The guys are a lot stronger, so they get a lot more strikes. But some of the women have a better spare game because they don’t get as many strikes. So sometimes it evens out.”
Further evening the score are recent technological advances and improved lane conditions.
“Silver, in particular, is really good,” Heath said. “They put a lot of oil in the middle, so basically, wherever you throw the ball it comes and stops.”
New ball designs provide greater power, and Heath said the proper equipment can go a long way toward bridging the gender gap.
Despite the advances, Heath said bowling against men may not be right for all women.
“There are some women, I guess, who shouldn’t bowl against the men because they make too big of a deal about it. They’re too emotional - you’ve got to act right on the lanes.”
Coed tournaments may not exactly be a great fit for all males, either.
“Sometimes, I think the guys want to beat a woman more,” Heath said. “A lot of them aren’t like that, but some of them are and that’s understandable. I guess sometimes I want to beat the guys more than the women, too.”
Win or lose, Heath said all she really cares about is getting the chance to bowl.
“I don’t think there’s a day that I haven’t wanted to bowl,” Heath said. “I think it’s something that you really love or you just don’t quite understand. I don’t know, there’s just a lot about it that I love.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story Top women bowlers Here is a list of the top games and series rolled by women in Spokane in the 1994-95 season by establishment, based on available records: North Bowl Julie Heath - 278, 288 games, 722, 725, 726 series Sandy Hanson - 278 game, 700, 705, 748 series Penny Kelly - 705, 706 series Airway Heights Kristi Auckerman - 299 game Linda Gooch - 288 game Renee Johnson - 709 series Diamond Bowl Jana Hardwick - 289 game Cathy Marinich - 279 game Juanita Andrews - 707 series Lilac Bowl Ellen Edwards - 299 game, 743 series Silver Bowl Kathy Thomas - 300 game, 723 series Kami Free - 289 game Barb Ramelow - 704 series Sandy Hanson - 749 series Sports Page Gail Clevenger - 300 game Julie Twiss - 279 game Star Lanes Julie Twiss - 717 series Valley Bowl Julie Twiss - 290, 277 games Vicki Frucci - 288 game, 705 series Darlene Bush - 279 game Sandy Reynolds - 738 series