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In a league of her own

85-year-old celebrates 50 years in Gresham bowling league
by: Kristopher Anderson Evelyn Gooding, 85, takes her turn recently while bowling at Rose Bowl at 164th Avenue and Powell Boulevard.

If Evelyn Gooding was able to match her age and her bowling score at 83, most people would be impressed.

But what if she rolled a 239?

What adjective would you use to describe that feat? Amazing?

That's what happened two years ago when Gooding was 83 years young.

To put that in perspective, the most common way to arrive at a score of 239 is to put together some combination of nine strikes and three spares (10 rounds in bowling plus an additional two bowls if you strike in the tenth frame).

Gooding, who lives in Estacada, has been bowling in a league full of Gresham-area school employees for 50 years. As in, at 85 she's still bowling in the same league.

Gooding grew up in Portland and attended Roosevelt High School. She stayed in Portland after marrying James Gooding, until he was called into service during World War II. The family moved during the war to San Diego, where James was stationed in the Navy.

Once the war ended, they returned to Portland, where James continued a boxing career he had begun in the Navy until he was able to return to school and become a teacher.

After nine years of teaching in Portland, James began working in Gresham in the 1961-62 school year.

Coincidentally, some school employees were in the process of starting a bowling league.

One of the teams needed a few extra women on the squad. Evelyn wound up being one of them.

'At the time when we started, we had a men's league and women's league,' she said. 'We started at Eastmont Lanes, and we were there for a little while before the big storm in 1962, so we had to move.'

The group eventually returned to Eastmont Lanes before moving to its current alley, Rose Bowl.

At one point, the league was affiliated with a national bowling league, but the group has since withdrawn from that organization and returned to a self-contained league. With that withdrawal, the league also combined the men's and women's leagues.

'We ended up just being a fun league,' Evelyn said. 'We used to fill the alleys, but now we're down to just six teams.'

Of the six remaining teams, a handful of bowlers are school employees while most of the participants are retirees. The ages in the group range from people in their 20s all the way up to Evelyn at 85.

James died in 2008, but Evelyn stayed in the league, citing all of the friendships she's formed.

'It's really been something to do, and I was really fortunate as a wife to meet a lot of people that I wouldn't have met,' she said. 'There's a lot of camaraderie, so I think it's the happiest thing.'

Now wrapping up her 50th year with the league, Evelyn has noticed some changes in the bowling world, but not as many as you might think.

'When we first started, everything was on pencil and paper, but now it's on computers, so scores are easier to track,' she said. 'I've also noticed that there used to be more attendance at bowling alleys.'

She also noted that 50 years ago, everything in the bowling alley was done manually - including having an employee who set up the pins every time.

While everything around her continues to change, her 11-pound curve ball continues to have the same mixed results it always has.

'Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but that's why it's fun,' she said. 'I never know where it's going to go.'

Fortunately for her, she tends to have a better idea than most. Even at 85, Evelyn averages a score of about 120, which is a large drop from her best years in the upper 130s.

Despite the drop, however, that whopping 239 happened just two years ago.

'I've been on the winning team in our league three times,' she said. 'And I even got an award when I bowled the 239.'

Winning or losing, Evelyn admits that through 50 years of bowling she isn't ready to slow down any time soon.

'She has always been very athletic, playing volleyball and basketball growing up and even teaching physical education when all the men went off to war,' said her daughter, Dianna Hewett. 'Even as she got older, she was a swimmer, a bowler, a walker and all of those things.'

Hewett, who lives in Independence, is one of James' and Evelyn's three children, along with her older sister, Judy Kirkham of Willamina, and her younger brother, Jim Gooding of Wilsonville.