THE sport of bowls has been popular in England for hundreds of years.
Sir Francis Drake is reported to have found time for a game before helping to beat the invading Spanish Armada in 1588.
But throughout the country the sport is experiencing a decline in its popularity and Doncaster is no exception.
Two long-established clubs, Elmfield Park and Scawthorpe, folded during the close season and several clubs have had to shed teams both prior to the start of the 2011 campaign and since due to a lack of numbers.
Doncaster Bowls Association chairman Ray Hall told me this week that there is real concern among both clubs and the management committee about the situation.
“Everyone has got to work together but there are no easy answers,” he said.
“The main problem is that there are not enough young people coming into the sport to compensate for the older people we are losing.
“We had quite a few young players coming through a few years ago but that is not the situation at this moment in time.
“Youngsters have so many other attractions as well as exams, and there doesn’t seem to be the interest in bowls that there once was.”
Ray says that he feels the demise of social bowling in local parks due to the lack of park-keepers, is also having an adverse affect on the popularity of the sport.
“There was a time when park greens would be packed with people playing social bowls and some of them would end up at local clubs,” he said. “But now you can’t hire bowls like you used to be able to do.”
Another factor affecting the reduction in the number of teams in the Doncaster area is the fact that some older club members are no longer prepared to play as often as they once did. Some of the players, particularly the older ones, are now picking their games,” said Ray.
“Instead of playing in the Over-60s League, the Saturday League and the two midweek leagues for their respective clubs, as a lot of them have done in the past, a lot of them are now only playing when they want and that has led to some teams having to be scrapped.”
Ray says that some bowlers have quit the sport because of the quality of some of the council-owned greens.
He conceded that some of the borough’s greens don’t get the same level of attention by council staff as they once did.
But he argues that the council don’t make any money from bowling greens - especially now that there is little or no income from social bowling.
“The only revenue the council get is a £25 fee for every registered bowler at a club,” says Ray.
“As everyone knows, Doncaster Council is having to make cuts and we have to share some of the pain.”
Ray has no axe to grind against the council and says that some of the problems bowlers are experiencing on some greens is due to the severe winter weather and unusual weather patterns in the spring.
A member of the Adwick St Lawrence club which celebrated its 80th anniversary last year - a function attended by Doncaster’s elected Mayor, Peter Davies, Ray admits he worries about the long-term future of the sport.
“As I say, we’ve lost quite a few bowlers in the last few years and, unless something changes, I can’t see the situation changing in the next ten years.
“We have to be able to attract new blood and promote the game and that’s why it is vital that we all our heads together and try and make that happen, maybe in open days at clubs and going into schools.”
Wilson treks with no change of clothes
DONCASTER Rovers’ Inca Trek team haven’t had it east at the start of their gruelling 62-mile walk.
What was always going to be a tough test for the team has been an even tougher challenge after a mix up with their luggage left Mark Wilson trekking in just trainers and with no change of clothes.
“It’s brilliant for me personally to be up here, but it’s who I’m up here with and who we’re doing it for that is huge for me.” he said .
“It is definitely one of the best things I have done in my life, although I’ve only got a pair of trainers, a pair of socks, and a T-shirt.
“It’s making it harder, but it might make people donate a few pounds more! “
Despite the lack of trekking kit, Mark and the team set off on schedule but quickly found it tough going and experienced problems with the altitude.
“The air is thin,” said Wilson. “Every time you walk up a hill you get four or five steps into it, and you’re breathing heavy and your head starts to hurt. There’s a couple struggling.
“It’s gone really well but it has been tough, tougher than expected.”
Dedication pays off for Dartes
I was pleased to give some publicity to Doncaster DARTES’ swimmers this week after the club’s exploits in the first of two North East ASA galas at the weekend.
DARTES is the performance training squad for the elite swimmers in Doncaster and squad members have to put in at least 12 hours of training every week, before (5am) and after school (5pm) and I’ve seen at first-hand how hard the youngsters work.
DARTES receive no funding from Doncaster Council and rely on a combination of training fees and fund-raising to keep afloat.
Yet they continue to do the town proud, and in addition to winning several gold medals at Ponds Forge, go into this weekend’s second NE Gala lying fourth overall.
Max Litchfield and Chloe Selman were both honoured at the recent Doncaster Sports Awards 2011.
A great game
NEXT week sees the second season of Summer Touch Rugby, which features serious and social competitions, in the town run by Dons’ boss Tony Miller as part of his full-time job with the Rugby Football League.
The first competition was staged at Toll Bar ARLFC, but the the 2011 event will be based at Wheatley Hills Rugby Union Club.
I have played many sports over the years and touch rugby, which I played into my early 40s, is right up there with the most enjoyable.
I would love to put my boots on for one more season, but sadly feel that I would risk making a fool of myself at my age in what is essentially a young man’s game.
To enter a team of ten email Tony at Tony.Miller@rfl.uk.com.
IF you have a few hours to spare tomorrow why not drop in on the town’s athletics stadium which hosts the South Yorkshire Schools’ Athletics Championships?
The winners of the various events will go on to represent the county in the prestigious English Schools’ Championships next month and you could be watching a possible future Olympian.
The track will also stage the annual South Yorkshire Relay Championship on Tuesday evening. Once again admission is free and spectators are welcome.
The club will also be staging the second running of the Sandall Beat 10k Trail Race on Wednesday, starting and finishing at Doncaster Knights’ Castle Park complex off Armthorpe Road.