The jerseys have been washed and dried. The day’s work is done and classes have ended. It’s Tuesday night, time for Mario Valverde and his family to pack their bags, put on their uniforms and head to Boliche Dent.
“I was 21 and just married when I began bowling,” Valverde said. “Now I’ve been bowling for 33 years.”
These days Valverde plays for three bowling teams, including “La Familia,” which consists of Valverde, his wife, sister and son. He estimates he spends at least 10 hours every week bowling.
“I play with my sponsored team on Mondays and Thursdays. Tuesdays I play with La Familia. This week I’m practicing for the Pan-American senior tournament in Colombia, so I will probably bowl on Wednesday also,” Valverde said.
Since he took up the game more than three decades ago, Valverde has seen the bowling world in Costa Rica and Latin America evolve into what it is today.
“Bowling was basic back then; no one really helped us,” Valverde said. “We began traveling for tournaments, and now each new boliche (bowling alley) is a little better than the one before.”
Costa Rica’s first bowling lanes were built in 1944 at the Costa Rica Country Club in the western San José suburb of Escazú. The club had four lanes exclusively for members. It wasn’t until 1947 that bowling was made available to the public. That year, the 10-lane Costa Rica Boliche Club and four-lane Boliche La California opened. Both closed shortly after.
Bowling dwindled until 1962, when several members of the country club established Boliche San Martín in eastern San José’s Barrio Dent neighborhood. The sport steadily grew, and in 1969 Boliche San Martín was converted into Boliche Dent, the 10-lane alley that continues prospering today.
Boliche Dent manager Roberto Chaves has 36 years of experience in the bowling world. “For years people didn’t give bowling much credit,” Chaves said. “It has grown, and now many people consider it to be a beautiful sport.”
The evolution of bowling in Costa Rica can be partly attributed to the success of the La Raza International Bowling Tournament. La Raza began in 1979 with the goal of recognizing bowling in Central America and providing a chance for bowlers to compete while making friends from around the world.
This year’s tournament begins tomorrow, Oct. 8, and runs until Oct. 15. The public is invited to watch as bowlers from 12 countries compete for the $20,000 grand prize. The men’s tournament will be held at Boliche Dent, while the women’s and senior events will take place at the newly opened Bol Cariari in Ciudad Cariari, northwest of the capital.
“You can see extraordinarily talented players during the tournament, but you can also see the enormous friendship between the players. We are like brothers. We have so many friends in so many countries. The tournament’s theme is ‘More than three decades… of friendship!’ It has always been the most important part of the tournament,” Chaves said.
Boliche Dent’s role as host of La Raza and the location’s inability to expand outward have inspired several interior renovations. These changes have included updating machinery and computers, opening a small restaurant with bar and installing foosball tables, pool tables and several televisions.
Despite the renovations, it is unclear how much longer Boliche Dent will be able to keep up without making drastic changes. The equipment sometimes struggles to efficiently replace pins and return balls, leaving anxious players to resort to repeatedly pressing the reset button.
While these are unfortunate truths for Boliche Dent, they also stand as a testament to the alley’s popularity and 42-year tenure as the country’s only public bowling alley.
Some of the Boliche Dent crowd will now head to Heredia province to Bol Cariari. This 20-lane, state-of-the-art bowling alley officially opened Aug. 26 after eight months of construction. The facility includes a restaurant, televisions and rooms for business events or birthday celebrations.
Bol Cariari is managed by Mauricio Murillo, vice president of the Costa Rican Bowling Association (ACOBOL). Murillo grew up bowling at Boliche Dent and learned the business from his father, who has invested in Boliche Dent and Bol Cariari. Murillo said Bol Cariari was built to satisfy increasing interest in bowling and the public’s desire for more social activity options.
“In Costa Rica, there are not many options for things to do as a group. You can go to the movies, to some bars, to dance,” Murillo said. “We saw what was happening
and began talking about building another boliche because, unfortunately, Boliche Dent cannot expand.”
Murillo explained that interest in the sport began to increase about eight years ago, when bowling alleys switched from manual to automatic scoring done by interactive computers.
“Before, a lot of people decided to not go bowling because they didn’t know how to keep score. That is not the case now. People have started to look at bowling as an activity you can do for fun but still relax and enjoy the people you are with,” Murillo said.
The bowling business is showing no signs of slowing down. To the delight of Murillo and Chaves, Boliche Dent and Bol Cariari entertain full houses several nights a week.
“We have been open only for a couple of months, and already the success we have had is much more than we could have imagined,” Murillo said.
Bol Cariari is now focusing on establishing its name in San José, but Murillo said he expects bowling leagues and classes to be organized there before the end of the year. Boliche Dent will continue hosting La Raza, its weekly bowling leagues and weekend classes for children.
More improvements and recognition are expected now that the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute and the Costa Rican Olympic Committee have begun to provide more financial backing for the sport.
While ACOBOL and its members continue working to promote the sport in Costa Rica and Central America, those involved have proven that passion is what keeps the sport moving forward.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s people bowling and not hitting any pins or the best bowlers in the world; I love to watch it,” Chaves said. “I love working where families and friends come to have fun.”
Note: Both facilities will be closed to public bowling during the La Raza International Bowling Tournament Oct. 8-15, except on Wednesday, Oct. 12; this is a free day for competitors, so both boliches will be open for business. The public is invited to watch the tournament, however. For information about La Raza, see www.torneodelaraza.com.