SEE ALSO: More photos and  Lawn What?
STORY: David Stringer
PHOTOGRAPHY: Jeannette Quirk, David Stringer

You Don't Know Jack

Many of our readers are unfamiliar with the sport of lawn bowling, and even those who know the sport may not have the real inside view - the game as only the jack knows it. So, what is it like being the jack?

It's not so easy being the jack in lawn bowling. Most people think the jack is just tossed a few dozen meters along the grass to lie patiently waiting for the real action to begin. And I suppose that's true in a way, but have you ever stopped to think what it feels like out there, just waiting?

No, I confess that I've never thought about that.

Well, it's awfully lonely, for one thing. It might seem like high society back in the clubhouse with all the Brits drinking their tea and the Aussies asking for more beer. But I'm out there by myself, under the hot sun surrounded by lawn that looks like it's been cut by a laser - though today it has a bit of a putting green roll to it. Not that I'm complaining.

Lonely, yes, but you will soon be joined by other balls - eight of them - all trying to get as close to you as possible. That has to help, doesn't it?

Don't get me started! All those big fancy balls with all the different sizes and weights, with everyone fussing all the time over how wide a draw they will get, and bowling forehand or backhand to get the draw to go the right way. Those balls think they are so special with their eccentric shapes that everyone studies so hard. Some are black, some are brown, and they have the little colored patches on the side making them oh so special for their teams. Who cares about a perfectly round white jack?

I suppose I never really thought about that. But isn't the point of the game to get as close to you as possible? Isn't that how the points are scored?

Well, sure, and a point if they hit me! Have you ever been run into by a 600 pounder? Lawn bowling is more violent than you think! No wonder they call the playing area a rink! The Canadians will probably introduce body checks into the sport in a few years.

Now, settle down, please. I'm sure you get plenty of respect. And the matches I've seen appear to involve a lot of finesse, delicate touches with the balls. These are highly skilled athletes, even though many of the best are enjoying their retirement years. And they are here at the Transplant Games for the fellowship as well as the competition. I was speaking with a Canadian named Fred MacDonald, a man who received a new heart in 1999, and he told me some came here reluctantly, still depressed because they were not adjusted to their illness and the surgery that saved them. Here they see people leading active lives, and they are greatly encouraged.

Active lives - like trying to hit poor little jack, or crowding all those big fancy balls around me and then measuring how far away they are. Well, good for them. What about me? I overheard an Australian, I think his name was Peter Pritchard, telling some reporter that the sport was invented by Sir Francis Drake, and the British have been fussing over it ever since. They worry about how short to cut the grass or how the wind will blow those big heavy balls. They look at the way the grass, which is about as long as the fuzz on a tennis ball, will follow the course of the sun, and they have to adjust their aim accordingly. Pritchard may have had a new liver eight years ago when he was bedridden and near death, and he may be an excellent bowler, but give me a break!

Lawn bowling is a sport for gentlemen and ladies. The skills are highly refined. The rulebook alone is over 80 pages long. The etiquette of the game requires polite applause instead of raucus cheers. You won't catch the kiwis doing their haka at lawn bowling. And they have a dress code that requires wearing white, with collars on the shirts.

Yes, and they are only allowed to wear white underpants. I wonder whose job it is to enforce that rule!

I think we will have to end this interview now. Thanks for chatting with me.

Thank you. I think someone is coming for me. Wish me luck!

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Last updated on: Friday, 05-Feb-2010 10:11:56 EST