By CHRIS MORRIS
NEW ALBANY —
After eating a chocolate cupcake to begin his day, Jack Oberhausen picked up his bowling ball, took aim, and let it fly.
He didn’t get a strike, but he did manage to collect spares in his first two frames.
“I use an 11-pound ball. You don’t get as many strikes with a lighter ball, not like a heavier ball,” he said while resting between throws. “But as long as you get spares, you can have a good game.”
It doesn’t really matter what score Oberhausen finishes with, to the others bowlers in the senior league at Hoosier Strike & Spare in New Albany, he is an inspiration and a winner every time he picks up a ball. On Thursday, Oberhausen will turn 98 years old.
Tuesday afternoon, the 120 bowlers in the senior league and employees at the bowling alley sang “Happy Birthday” to Oberhausen and enjoyed a few cupcakes to celebrate their friend’s big day.
While Oberhausen bowls every Tuesday in the senior league, he practices every Monday and Friday with his 69-year-old nephew, Jim Hudson.
Hudson said when Oberhausen’s wife died in 2005, he began bringing his uncle to the bowling alley. The two have been bowling together, three days a week, ever since.
Hudson said Oberhausen has trouble seeing the pins due to macular degeneration. Partners tell him which pins are still standing after his first ball so he knows where to aim when trying to pick up a spare.
Last year Oberhausen’s average was 130. This year, it has dropped a few pins which is a subject he would rather not discuss.
“He has a blind spot, but he does his best,” Hudson said. “His average has dropped this year and he is disappointed with that. He is so competitive. He is galled that his average has dropped.”
David Belden, assistant manager at Hoosier Strike & Spare, said there are two other bowlers in their 90s who play in the senior league. But Oberhausen is the oldest, and Belden said his participation each week is an inspiration.
Oberhausen said he does suffer from hip pain, but won’t let that slow him down. He said he just has to sit a little more between frames.
He said he remembers setting up pins by hand when he was younger at the old Catholic Community Center, now the Knights of Columbus, along Main Street. He said he quit bowling for several years, but picked it up again after he got out of the Army.
“At one time I was pretty good,” he said. “Right now, I am not doing so good. But it’s good exercise and it’s an interesting game. You can throw a ball a certain way and all the pins will fall. You throw it the same way the next time and only a few pins fall. It’s hard to understand.”
“He likes to throw a hook, but sometimes it hooks too much,” Hudson said.
There are two things that are predictable each week in the league — Oberhausen will be there with a ball in his hand and a smile on his face, and he will drink one small and one large cup of coffee during play. And, every now and then, he will shoot a game of pool on his way out the door.
“It’s very amazing,” said Leo Halbleib, a bowler, when talking about Oberhausen’s longevity in the league. “There have been 90 -year-olds here, but not that many.”