"Come on! Do it! Do it! Do it! Yeah!" yells Connor Kneisel of Lake Grove, 4, as he watches the 3-pound red ball he just rolled down the lane cruise toward the bowling pins. "Yes! Yes! Yes! I got six!"
Connor jumps up and down. "I love this game," he says.
It's easy for kids to embrace bowling at Coram Country Lanes, where a mini-bowling room shrinks the game to a manageable size for kids ages 3 and older: The four lanes are half regulation length, the balls are smaller and don't have finger holes, and the pins are two-thirds the normal size.
When kids learn basketball, they start out on courts with lowered hoops, says John LaSpina, co-owner of Coram Country Lanes. When they learn soccer, they play on a smaller field. "Bowling is one of the few sports that you teach on an adult playing field," LaSpina says, which makes it harder for kids. So when LaSpina and business partner Bill De Cicco saw the "Highway 66" mini-lanes at a bowling trade show, they invested in four.
"It's an excellent way to get kids started," says Chad Murphy, director of youth development for the Arlington, Texas-based International Bowling Campus, a partnership of bowling organizations, including the sport's national governing body. The lightest ball on a regulation lane is 6 pounds, which can be unwieldy for a child to throw with any accuracy, he says.
Each lane looks just like a regular alley but has a dotted white line down the middle like a highway, which helps kids aim. A green light tells kids it's time to roll; a red light means wait. Bumpers can be raised with a push of a button, so each child can choose whether he wants them during his turn. Scores are kept automatically, with cartoon graphics. No bowling shoes are required. Games are still 10 frames.
The lanes book five to six birthday parties a weekend in the mini-bowling room at a cost of $325 for 15 children, including pizza, hot dogs or chicken tenders for each kid, but parents are responsible for the cake. When the room isn't booked for parties, bowling costs $2 per game. Adults can play, too.
"Highway 66" lanes are found more often in family entertainment centers than incorporated as part of bowling alleys, says Joe Ingui, national sales manager for the N.J.-based Betson Enterprises, distributors for "Highway 66." When they're in a bowling alley, kids get the atmosphere and vibe of the whole bowling experience.
"I think this is great for little kids," says Christina Prato of Selden, whose daughter, Elisabeth, 4, was bowling along with Connor and other guests at a recent birthday celebration for Max Freda of Lake Grove. "When I was little, it was intimidatingly huge. This is the perfect size. She's not half bad at it." Elisabeth leaned over to get her ball, which is returned automatically, just like on a grown-up's alley.
Max's older brother, Benjamin Sorrentino, also had his birthday party at the mini-lanes this year when he turned 7, Mom Kristy Freda says. "Regular bowling alleys, they can't lift the ball," she says. "The kids tend to get frustrated with the bigger lanes."
Benjamin agrees that the mini-lanes have advantages, even for kids as old as he is. "You can get easier strikes," the third-grader says. "I got one like five times today."
OTHER TODDLER SPOTS
Safari Adventure Children's Entertainment Center, 1074
Pulaski St., Riverhead, 631-727-4386, thesafariadventure.com: Four-level "Kilimanjaro"playground offers climbing, slides and more. Three inflatable bouncers have a safari theme; one more is for kids 3 and younger.
The Children's Safari, 6 Rockaway Ave., Valley Stream, 516-872-2600, thechildrenssafari.com: Interactive indoor playground with sand pit, bouncer, arcade games and slides and tunnels. For an additional fee of $18 to $28, stuff your own safari friend.