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Having a bowl at Waveland
by Ross Forman
2009-10-28

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Gary Handler still recalls the wide range of emotions that ran through Waveland Bowling when the 40-lane facility he runs was the bowling home for the 2006 Gay Games.

There were joy, sorrow, thrills, chills and plenty of sweat at 3700 N. Western.

"It was very hot [ outside ] and we lost a transformer, so half of our electricity went out," said Handler, now 51. "It was a difficult, difficult set of circumstances, and the heat created a lot of humidity on the lanes, which led to sticking, etc. But with everyone playing under the same circumstances, it was not a competitive advantage or disadvantage for anyone; everyone was playing in/on the same conditions.

"It was a tough week, but a fun week for sure."

Waveland Bowl has developed into the premiere bowling center in Chicago for the LGBT community, if only because Lakeview's Marigold Bowl closed its doors about six years ago. Waveland now plays host to a Tuesday night league for competitors from the Windy City Athletic Association ( WCAA ) and a Friday night league for the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ) .

In 1983, Waveland Bowl was the host for the third-annual International Gay Bowling Organization Tournament.

"It's not like I am aggressively [ seeking players ] from the [ gay ] community, but, to be honest with you, it's just a wise business decision," said Handler, who is married with three children ranging in age from 24-28. "These [ gay ] leagues are a huge part of our business; they are very important to us. And to have the entire gay community to think of us in a positive manner is something we value."

Waveland has 10 full-time employees and 25 part-timers, and at least 11 of the 35 are openly gay, Handler said. Waveland's manager, Bill Frye, 58, is gay and has been working at the facility for about 35 years.

"I would do anything I can to help the [ gay ] community, and do so whenever asked," Handler said. "We are the home house for the gay bowling community in Chicago, which is great.

"The [ gay ] leagues definitely have fun, more than other leagues.

"I think the Tuesday league is more competitive and the Friday league is more social. On Friday, for instance, we play music [ over the loud-speaker ] throughout the night. Both have a great time; both drink a lot, often high-end liquor. My staff loves them; they are great tippers. They've become part of the fabric of Waveland Bowl.

"We've had very few problems over the years with the gay leagues. Overall, I think it's been a win-win situation for everyone."

Handler said the gay leagues have some "great" bowlers and some have even recorded a perfect 300 game.

"Everything clicks with the gay league on Friday; they're there to have a great time, and they do. We do, too," Handler said.

Ironically, the Friday night CMSA league has split Waveland with an eight-team church league for the past four or five years. Handler convinced the church league to move to Thursday nights this fall, so CMSA has now expanded to use all lanes.

"The church league had no problem bowling alongside the gay league; none whatsoever," Handler said. "We only moved the church league [ to a different night ] so the gay league could expand."

So what about adding a third night of gay bowling?

That is possible, Handler said—or more.

"I'd be happy with gay bowlers five nights per week. But actually, I just look at them as bowlers; they just happen to be gay. To me, they're a league, whether they're gay, [ from a ] church or a bunch of mechanics. They're a bowling league," Handler said. "I probably would prefer the gay leagues to any other leagues because [ the participants ] are not trouble-makers at all. For the most part, they are educated and employed. Plus, as a group, they respect the bowling center; they don't get belligerent, rowdy and out-of-hand. There are not any negatives from the gay leagues."

And Handler also has not had any problems, although he was prepared for some, after the CMSA league ends and before open bowling starts on Friday nights.

"I have absolutely no negative thoughts, comments, statements, stories or whatever about the gay leagues. They treat me with respect and everyone on my staff as well," Handler said.


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