Bright Lights, Bowl City

Planning teen bowling's New York debut at Grand Central Terminal is tricky

Teen Masters, an annual high school bowling competition that began in 1997 as a small tournament in Ohio, came to New York today to decide the best bowlers in America–and to get someone to watch.

Their strategy for being in front of as many New Yorkers as possible—New York is the media capital of the world, their site notes–was to host the final tournament in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall, where media elites traipsing home to the suburbs would practically trip over it.

The $12,500 per day rental fee marks the most expensive installation that Teen Masters tournament founder Gary Beck says he has ever hosted.

“We’re telling a very compelling story, and if you’re going to do that, you need to tell the story where it can be heard,” Mr. Beck, who lives about 20 miles outside of Charlottesville, explained. “There’s no other place in the world you can reach as many people as New York.”

Already, the event has been mentioned by New York media sources such as DNAinfo, the New York Times, and HuffPost.

But at 2 p.m. today, though several media sources had already arrived for the 1 p.m. start, no bowling balls could be heard.

A man bent over the bowling lane with a saw in hand, trimming the end.

They had begun setting up the lane and surrounding bleacher seating last night at 8 p.m., working through logistical issues. 18 hours later, Mr. Beck still had not slept.

When the contractors had arrived this morning to work on the lane, their attire had not met required safety standards, so they had to go shopping for items such as metal-toed shoes before beginning work.

“We had problems because it has never been done before,” said Mr. Beck, adding that the 1,600 pound pin deck had to be carried from the loading dock three blocks away. “It’s more complicated but it’s worthwhile… You wouldn’t be talking to me if we weren’t here.”

“We have all kinds of wacky events in Grand Central,” said MTA spokesperson Margie Anders.

An annual squash tournament, cooking demonstrations and fashion shows have also taken place in the train station’s Vanderbilt Hall. A wedding – complete with a 53-piece orchestra and 500 guests – is scheduled for later this month.

“You never know what you’re going to see in there,” Ms. Anders stated.

The space was converted from a 650-person waiting room to event venue in 1998. Just one lane was being set up for the tournament – the design already approved to meet MTA engineering and safety standards – with the oil pattern determined by the current tournament leader.

Still, with 700,000 people passing through the terminal on a given weekday, Grand Central is no average tournament bowling alley.

“I believe it’s going to be so distracting and nerve-wracking,” said 18 year-old Ryan Ventillo, who had moved onto the final round. “I think it’s a good idea for exposing the sport and the tournament, but as far as bowling I think it’s going to be real difficult… You can’t let all these distractions and all these obstacles get to you.”

While no competitors are city residents, several are from New York State, and as Long Island resident Jeffrey Juarez described, can often be identified because they “tend to be very loud and obnoxious when they bowl.”

After all, 15-year-old reasoned, “You want the intensity level to stay right where it is.”

The Teen Masters Bowling championship participants had taken a party bus from New Jersey to Manhattan that morning for the opening ceremony and final rounds. Many said they play for school teams, attend tournaments weekly and practice daily for about three hours. Of five participants from New York interviewed, three said they took up bowling because their parents bowl.

“I pretty much grew up in a bowling alley,” Tommy Genova, a 17-year-old participant competing for the $64,000 scholarship prize, said, adding that he hopes the event brings attention to an often overlooked sport.

“That’s a shame he had this delay,” an onlooking father noted of Mr. Beck, as he tested the event microphone.

But rush hour was still a ways away.

Bright Lights, Bowl City