Annual BVL VA Tournament Concludes: There’s Something in the Water in Bath (NY VA Medical Center)

It’s got to do with bowling mojo.

Consider the facts:  Of the teams placing in the top three slots in the six divisions of the recently concluded 71st Annual BVL VA Bowling Tournament, five teams represented the Bath VAMC. That facility had a total of eight teams participate in the tournament, in the inpatient, outpatient, wheelchair and electronic bowling divisions.

The tournament is open to all veterans connected with the VA Medical Center system and is coordinated through VA recreation therapy.  Divisions are based on physical and age parameters; and also include two for electronic bowling.

Teams of five – with up to three alternates – bowl a total of 45 games and submit scores to BVL. All competitors receive a certificate of participation, and team members in the top three teams in each division receive medals.

The tournament was first introduced in 1947 to provide a recreational outlet for those hospitalized veterans returned from the battlefields of Europe and Asia. The inaugural event was conducted on the White House bowling lanes with President Truman on hand to confer awards.  The tournament has been conducted annually since.

Although the veterans at the Bath VA usually fare well in the tournament, due to the fact that there are bowling lanes on site for easy access to practice; this year, they had an unusually good showing.

Bowling plays an important role in recreation therapy at the Bath facility. Lisa King, Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center program Social Services Assistant, explains, “We have the mornings full of psychoeducational groups and the afternoons filled with fun and games. One of the most important things for everyone to remember is to allow oneself to have some fun, and that laughter is good.” Their bowling league has built a strong sense of camaraderie and a support system for the veterans. Today, they even meet on the weekends and plan activities on their own. This program has evolved into a life plan: “Connecting through the bowling league, our veterans continue to foster independence and have an improved sense of self with noted reductions in the rate of isolation,” adds Lisa.

But the fun wasn’t limited to just Bath. It was enjoyed by more than 70 teams throughout the country and often extends beyond the tournament dates. Henry Bullock, Recreation Therapist at the Grand Junction (CO) VAMC, conducts bowling instruction clinics every winter from November through February, teaching basic and adaptive techniques to help veterans learn or re-learn the game based on their abilities and or current physical condition. In February, the top eight bowlers can earn a spot on the BVL team.

Some of the team members from the Cleveland VAMC show off their medals.

Many of the veterans participating in the clinics have caught the ‘bowling bug’ and gone on to compete at the National Veterans Golden Age Games and the National Veterans Wheelchair games (both sponsored, in part, by BVL). Additionally, five years ago, some of the veterans started their own league drawing new bowlers from the clinics each year.

Says Henry, “This is the first time since I have been running the bowling clinics here in Grand Junction that one of our outpatient team have ever finished in the top three! The BVL has become a huge part of our recreation therapy department’s rehabilitation process and continues to have a therapeutic and positive impact on so many of the veterans we serve here in Grand Junction — creating healthier hobbies, activities and lifestyles. Thank you BVL for all that you do for our veterans!”

Landing at the top of the division has been a goal for the veterans at the Northport (NY) VAMC.  This year, they got the gold.

“In 2016 our team’s entry placed third in the Outpatient Division. That was great, and gave us a real boost in our friendship and camaraderie. This year, we managed a first place finish in the Seniors Division. Wow!” says team member Vince Buccellato.  However, as Vince explains, they’ve earned a lot more, “I have participated in each of the annual BVL Bowling Tournaments since 2013. During the years, I have found new friendships with my fellow bowling teammates, friendships that go beyond our year round bowling together twice a week. These BVL tournaments have been great experiences for me personally and I know that the other team players are having fun as well, as I can see this on their faces after each bowling shot.

Vince continues, “I certainly plan to be back in 2018, and in the following years to come. The high fives, the fist bumps, and the bowling advice are priceless. Even when I miss picking up the ten pin spares, which I continue to struggle with, and am sometimes teased about it, I know that these guys and gals are really supportive. Thanks BVL and thanks Northport VAMC Recreation Therapy Service. My thanks, of course, goes out also to my fellow veteran teammates.”

Finishing at the top of the divisions were the following teams:

Inpatient              Bath VA Medical Center

Inpatient              Bath VA Medical Center

Inpatient              Central AR Veterans Healthcare System, Eugene Towbin Healthcare System

Outpatient          Providence VA Medical Center

Outpatient          VA Western New York Healthcare System

Outpatient          Bath VA Medical Center

Seniors                 Northport VA Medical Center

Seniors                 Grand Junction VA Medical Center

Seniors                 Tomah VA Medical Center

Wheelchair         Bath VA Medical Center

Wheelchair         VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System

Wheelchair         Memphis VA Medical Center

Electronic Bowling           Washington DC VAMC

Electronic Bowling           Central AR Veterans Healthcare System, Eugene Towbin Healthcare Center

Electronic Bowling           Bath VA Medical Center

Electronic Bowling Seniors           Washington DC VA Medical Center

Electronic Bowling Seniors           Dayton VA Medical Center CLC

Electronic Bowling Seniors           Louis Stokes Cleveland VAMC

“We are delighted to be able to provide this annual opportunity for our American heroes,” says BVL Board Chairman John LaSpina. “This tournament, with its rich history and tradition, provides more than medals and bragging rights; it means fun, fitness and, most of all, friendship.  We’re proud to play a role in making the days a little brighter for those who have served our country.  We can never thank our veterans enough for their sacrifice.”