Grandparents take to the lanes for annual tourney

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 14, 2000

Thousands of people come to Natchez every year for a variety of reasons. Magnificent antebellum homes line the picturesque streets, scenic cliffs overlook the Mississippi, and the Isle of Capri Casino offers entertainment for those looking for a little more excitement. But more than 800 visitors have traveled to Natchez this summer to visit a site not usually listed on tour programs — Rivergate Bowling Lanes.

The 16-lane bowling alley has spent the last six weekends hosting the 13th annual Rockin’ Grandma and Grandpa Bowling Tournament, an event that has slowly but surely grown in popularity over the past decade.

&uot;Our first year we only had about 30 teams,&uot; said Rivergate co-owner Jess Hash. &uot;This year we had over 195. That’s up 10 from last year.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Each team is made up of four players with only one prerequisite — competitors must be grandparents.

&uot;Age doesn’t matter,&uot; Hash said. &uot;As long as they’ve got grandkids, they can bowl.&uot;

Hash said grandparents are a perfect group at which to target a tournament.

&uot;Usually their kids are grown up and gone. (And) they like to travel,&uot; he said. Plus, &uot;There aren’t really any tournaments just for them.&uot;

This year’s tournament brought hundreds of people from across Mississippi and Louisiana, Hash said, and many traveled from as far away as Arkansas and Texas.

Hash credits the city of Natchez for the tournament’s success.

&uot;It’s the spirit of the community,&uot; he said. &uot;The history, the scenery, good restaurants, the boat. People can come up here and have fun.&uot;

Georgine Leblanc, a grandmother from New Iberia, La., said she thinks Hash may be a little too modest.

&uot;I love this bowling alley,&uot; she said. &uot;There are nice people, it’s relaxing. It’s just nice all around.&uot;

Shirley Hoffbauir, a grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of one, appreciates that the tournament is targeted to her generation.

&uot;It’s a success because of the music, the atmosphere and the personalities,&uot; she said, as the juke box blared golden oldies. &uot;It brings us back to the olden days.&uot;

Hoffbauir, also from New Iberia, has come to the tournament for the past eight years, and has recruited new teams every year, she said.

This year she was able to recruit a special team member. Her daughter, Rhonda Guillotte, became a grandmother on June 2 with the birth of Rylee Renee.

&uot;I’ve come the last few years as a chauffeur for my mom,&uot; Guillotte said. &uot;This year I get to bowl.&uot;

Most of the bowlers mentioned the casino as a draw to the city, a fact apparently not lost on the casino itself. Isle of Capri co-sponsors the event, Hash said, giving each participant a free buffet lunch and donating $1,500 in prize money.

&uot;I’m sure they’re hoping to get that money right back,&uot; Hash said, &uot;and they probably will.&uot;

The majority of bowlers weren’t too interested in the prize money. Admittedly, most said their current scores were pretty low, but most also said their goal in entering the tournament was to have a good time.

&uot;I look forward to it every year,&uot; said Inez Bricklen, Farmerville, La., a 10-year visitor to the tournament and grandmother of 15.

Hash is not particularly looking forward to next year’s event, however, as the tournament will be preceded by the Women’s State Bowling Tournament. &uot;We’re going to have over 2,500 bowlers in here over an 11-week period,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ll have a full house every shift.

&uot;Of course, that’s what we’re in the business for,&uot; he added.