On a recent Monday afternoon Radio Goulart, age 10, slid to a stop at the foul line on lane eight at the Barn in Oak Bluffs, his right arm scything down and releasing a bowling ball toward a triangle of ten pins 60 feet away.
Aiming for bowling nirvana, he sent his ball hurtling between the first pin and the two pins behind it, the place where strikes happen. Radio’s ball slid just past the sweet spot and collapsed seven pins, leaving a cluster of three for his second shot.
Rob Goulart, standing behind his son, felt his pain, but encouraged him. “That was it, right where you aimed; it’s coming,” he encouraged his son. Sure enough, three balls later, Radio found gold and all 10 pins exploded into the darkness behind the lane.
Mr. Goulart congratulated his son, then explained why he and Radio were at the Barn. “Practicing,” he said. “We’ve just started a league for kids and adults here. Kids from 7 to 12 with an adult.”
“It’s something for kids to do, and kids are the future of the sport,” he said, adding, “We started with seven teams, now we have 11, I think, all from word of mouth, and there is room for more, if you’d mention that in the article.”
After six months of operation, Islanders have started to flock to the glossy new facility on Uncas Avenue just off Upper Circuit Avenue. With 11 shiny lanes, a restaurant — menu by well-known chef Albert Lattanzi — and a bar below an expansive function room on the second floor, the Barn, Bowl & Bistro has become a sweet spot on the Island.
Monday, Feb. 1 was opening day for the winter-spring league schedule. General manager Mike Sawyer and facilities manager Bryan LeCompte and his wife Marisa took time from preparing to greet the first arrivals for play in the 20-team men’s league to talk to a reporter. The 17-team women’s league plays on Tuesday night, and a myriad of other leagues — seniors, public safety, businesses, restaurants, teachers, and mixed leagues — have sprung up over the first season, and play during weekdays.
“We call today men’s Monday, “ Renata Cerda, a lively, bright soul at the check-in desk, said.
“Women play on Tuesdays, but sometimes I wish they played on Wednesday so we could call it women’s Wednesday. I really like alliteration,” she added with a laugh.
The Barn has that vibe. However, as Mr. Sawyer explained, life wasn’t so funny when the Barn opened last May. “The owners, none of us, really had any experience managing bowling operation. I had no idea how delicate the pin-setting equipment and systems are. Lanes were going out of service,” he said.
The notion of high-tech bowling may be foreign to those of us raised on dusty old candlepin alleys with an inevitable pall of smoke hanging overhead. The Barn is way better. You don’t have to keep score: The display above your alley does that for you, side-by-side with a big-screen TV showing bowling and other programming.
“We were fortunate to find Brian and Marisa. Now things work perfectly. The systems operate perfectly, the lanes are perfect, always oiled and ready to go,” Mr. Sawyer said.
Mr. LeCompte, 52, is a long, thin, quiet man who knows bowling from the mechanical detail behind the scenes to mastery of the sport. A Louisiana native and a former professional bowler, Mr. LeCompte and his wife Marisa have made their living setting up bowling centers around the country from New England to California over the past three decades.
They came to the Island last June and found what they were looking for, a place to put down roots. “I told my friend Jimmy Boyette [the top technician for U.S Bowling Corp., which installed the lanes] that we wanted a place we could settle down,” he said. “He called me one day and we came to see the Island and the operation and we were all in — great place, great ownership, great people here.”
Mr. LeCompte is a perfectionist about his craft and sport. He rolled the Barn’s first perfect 300-score game in October. A perfect game in bowling is akin to a no-hitter in baseball. Hard to hit that sweet spot. To do it 12 times in a row is a major feat. They give you rings for doing it. Mr. LeCompte has seven rings.
For the LeComptes, the Island is another sweet spot. “The Island is different from the mainland. Some people have bowled before, of course, but most are learning the game,” he said.
“To watch them learn and improve, to be able to help them and to see the love of the game take hold, is wonderful for us. More than 90 percent of first-season players have reregistered for the winter league.”
For Mr. Sawyer, running a bowling alley has provided some insights into human behavior. “I’ve noticed that everyone smiles when they are bowling,” he said.
The fall league winners follow:
Men’s League: 1. Split Happens; 2. Sons of Belichick. Women’s League: 1. Minds in the Gutter; 2. The Fireballs. Mixed League: 1.The Pineapples; 2. The Barn Owls. Senior League: 1. The Lucky Strikes; 2. The Four Flowers. Business League: 1. Gale Force (Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard); 2. Rocket Team. Teachers’ League: 1. Spare Me MVEA; 2. Pin Pals MVEA. Moonlight League: 1. Fuego Latino; 2. Ragin Cajun.