For decades, the York County Travel League was the epitome of competitive bowling in the area.
The scratch league featured 18 five-man teams comprised of the best bowlers in the county. Teams represented individual centers and they traveled to neighboring centers every other week during a 36-week season.
The league, believed to have been started in the early 1950s, disbanded after the 2012-2013 season. At the time, the league was operating with fewer teams and represented fewer centers. Centers, however, could be represented by more than one team.
“Glorious” league: “It was a sad day when the Travel League ended. I miss it tremendously,” said Tim Shanabrook, 74, of Hanover. Shanabrook joined the league at age 16 in 1961. He bowled in the league for more than 40 years.
“It was a glorious type of league. There was so much tradition and prestige associated with it. If someone asked you to bowl on a Travel League team, you became somebody. Bowling with, and against, the best bowlers raised your competitive juices.”
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Waiting lists: Terry Brenneman, 73, of York, competed in the Travel League from 1961 until 1986.
“At one time, I believe 14 different centers were represented,” he said. “And, many of those teams returned year after year. There was always a lengthy waiting list of teams wanting to join. Individuals pretty much had to be invited to join a team.”
“The Travel League was special,” said Don Smith, 69, of Hanover. “Most bowlers couldn’t wait until 9 p.m. Friday. Traveling to different centers, bowling on different lane conditions and going against the top bowlers appealed to competitive bowlers.”
Smith joined the league in 1977 and competed for nearly 40 years.
“As junior bowlers, we looked up to the bowlers in the Travel League,” Smith said. “Don Kauffman, Woody Snyder, Doug Eiserman and Jim Wantland were legends to us. We wanted to join the Travel League to measure ourselves against the top bowlers.”
“Premier” league: Jim Plessinger, 64, a former Professional Bowlers Association member, joined the league in 1981, shortly after moving to York.
“The Travel League was definitely the premier league in York County,” Plessinger said. “Bowlers, even those with lower averages, took pride in being in the league. And, winning the league team title or finishing as the top average bowler were impressive accomplishments.”
“I absolutely miss the Travel League,” said Dave Zelger, 60, of Dallastown. “As a younger bowler, I aspired to compete in the Travel League. It was prestigious, and it meant something.”
Zelger, who competed for 30-plus years in the league, said: “There were some intense matches because everyone was very competitive and wanted to do well. There was a lot of pride on the line.”
Friendships developed: Although the league was very competitive, bowlers agree that a lot of friendships were also developed.
“The camaraderie was incredible,” Zelger said. “The teams were tight-knit, but also very social. You got to know a lot of bowlers throughout the county.”
League falters: After decades of success, the York County Travel League began to falter in the early 1990s. Fewer bowlers were interested in competing on Friday nights, starting at 9 p.m. (in later years, it was moved to 7:30 p.m.), and traveling. Glow bowling and open bowling began to squeeze Travel League bowlers out of a prime weekend slot.
The league couldn’t withstand changing times. Now, like the York White Roses, the Baltimore Colts and the PBA Tour on ABC-TV, the York County Travel League is a fond memory of the past.
Reach Barry Sparks at firstname.lastname@example.org.