newsa bit o the irish rolls in montgomery hall park next saturday

Irish Road Bowling: A bit o’ the Irish rolls in Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton on Saturday

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

Irish Road Bowling
Photo courtesy Staunton Parks and Recreation Department.

STAUNTON — The bowls will roll in Montgomery Hall Park on March 13, for the seventh annual Irish Road Bowling event.

“It is our job to create recreational opportunities for our community,” said Steven Taetzsch, assistant superintendent of recreation for Staunton Parks and Recreation. “This is one way we’re able to do that this time of year.”

Irish Road Bowling is also easily adjusted to accommodate pandemic restrictions.

Last year’s event was held just as the pandemic began, and the traditional St. Patrick’s Day party with an awards presentation at Queen City Brewing was cancelled.

“So, this year, we aren’t able to do that,” Taetzsch said of the party held by the event’s sponsor.

Other modifications to this year’s event include no shuttle service from the parking lot to the top of Montgomery Hall Park where the event begins. Participants will get “extra exercise that day,” Taetzsch said, by walking up to the starting point.

Masks are required at the registration table and the finish line when participants are around parks and recreation staff members.

Teams will easily social distance because each team comes at a designated time.

Held rain or shine usually the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, Taetzsch said that 30 teams participated in the first event held seven years ago and 55 participated last year.

This year, 26 teams are registered, but Taetzsch expects more than 30 will eventually participate. Registration deadline is Wednesday, March 10, or when registration reaches the maximum of 40 teams permitted this year because of the pandemic.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” Taetzsch said of the event.

Irish Road Bowling is set up similar to a golfing tournament. Each team of three or four collects their 2.5- pound metal ball and score card at the registration table. Each ball is spray painted a bright color so that they are not easily lost if they roll off the road into the woods.

Each member of a team takes a turn rolling the ball while the other team members go ahead to catch the ball.

“The goal is to go through the pre-set amount of road, and you want to do it in the less amount of strokes,” Taetzsch said.

The team to reach the end of the road with the least amount of rolls wins. If teams tie for the win, each team rolls its ball and the ball that rolls furthest across the finish line wins.

Seven years ago, Taetzsch was program director for the Staunton Parks and Recreation, and was in charge of creating activities and classes for the community.

“In doing so, I met a couple named John and Diane Byer who told me about Road Bowling, because they had done it in West Virginia,” Taetzsch said.

A larger and more organized event in West Virginia than Staunton’s event, Taetzsch learned all he could from Dave Powell of the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling event.

Irish Road Bowling’s history actually dates back to the 1600s. Soldiers in Ireland used cannonballs and created a game to entertain themselves.

“From there, we basically thought since this is something done in Ireland we would do it around St. Patrick’s Day,” Taetzsche said.

March is also a good time for the event, because the community is coming out of the winter season and “people are looking for ways to get out of the house.”

Taetzsch said the city purchased road bowls, as they are called, seven years ago, and also provide each team with an information packet which explains the game’s origins.

“It’s a pretty unique event,” he said.

In 2016, Staunton Parks and Recreation received an award for best new event at the Virginia Parks and Recreation Society state conference for Irish Road Bowling.

“It’s a lot of fun. I think the reason it’s so successful and people come out every is it’s so fun,” Taetzsch said.

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Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.