DANVILLE, Ill. — Shirley Gibson was nearly 30 before she picked up a bowling ball. Since then, she hasn’t put it down.

Recently, the Danville woman was honored for her 50 years with the TNT Bowling League at Bulan’s Bowl just west of Danville. She was also recognized at her league’s banquet on May 5.

“Shirley always has a smile on her face, and everyone loves her,” said Jack Seymour, Bulan’s owner since 1971 and a former TNT league member. “We’ve enjoyed having her here, and we hope to have her for many more years.”

“It’s just something I really enjoy doing,” Gibson said of the pastime, which has taken her throughout the country, put a little money in her pocket and kept her feeling young.

Gibson grew up in Perrysville, Indiana, but no one in her family bowled. She started in 1967 when she began dating her husband, Donald.

“He was the one who taught me,” Gibson said. “He was left-handed, so he’d say, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.'”

“I picked up on it pretty quickly,” continued Gibson, who bowled her first 600 series about two years after she started.

“Don wasn’t a bad bowler,” Gibson said. “But after a while, I think my average was higher than his.”

In 1967, Gibson joined the TNT (Tuesday Night Teetotalers) league, and played on a team with Don; his brother, John Gibson; their aunt, Kap Wilson; and Dean Miller. The league has eight four-person teams and bowls every Friday night during Bulan’s 35-week bowling season, which goes from August through April.

Gibson, who worked at R&S Printing and raised two daughters, usually found time to bowl in two leagues. In addition to TNT, she currently bowls in two (Danville) Lincoln Lanes leagues — the Tuesday Morning Ladies and Moreman Rentals, both of which bowl on Tuesdays.

“Most people don’t want to bowl six games in a row,” she said.

The recreational sport has taken Gibson throughout Illinois and the U.S. for 34 state and 23 national tournaments.

“I’ve won a little money,” she said, cracking a smile.

She actually missed the banquet due a national tournament in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she competed in the women’s individual, doubles and team categories. Sue Broderick of Danville is her doubles partner, and Broderick, Judy Moreman and Barb Walls are the other members of her team.

Though her best average was once 166, it’s now 146.

“For her age, that’s very good,” Seymour said. “It’s good for a lot of women.”

Gibson said she’s never bowled a perfect game of 300. Her closest was a 239.

“I still get strikes, though I don’t get as many as I used to,” said Gibson, who will be 80 on Aug. 22. “I’ve had several triplicates and all spare games. I also picked up a Big 4, where you knock down two pins on each side. That’s the one I’m most proud of.”

“That’s hard to do,” Seymour said. “You have to hit it just right. It takes some skill and strength.”

In 2005, Gibson was inducted into the Danville Bowling Association Hall of Fame. In 2014, she sidelined for a while after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

“You can imagine the first thing I asked my doctor: Am I going to be able to bowl?” recalled Gibson, who wasn’t able to throw a ball for seven weeks. “It was a big wonder whether I was going to be able to anymore. I got better and was able to get back into it gradually.”

Though many friends she met through bowling are no longer around, and her husband stopped because of a back issue, Gibson plans to keep at it as long as she enjoys it.

“My goal is to make 25 years in the nationals,” she said. “If I make it one more year, I’ll have 25.”

Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, http://bit.ly/2pllRre

Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Champaign) News-Gazette.

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