WICHITA, Kan. — Maggi Watson grabs an eight-pound green marbled bowling ball with a frail hand and places it by her side as she steps up to the lane. She takes four steps in her old, white lace-up bowling shoes and releases the ball.
It’s the 10th frame, and the 98-year-old bowler just picked up her third strike of the day. She finished the game with a 140, the highest she’s bowled in The Alley’s senior league this summer.
Watson is the oldest female bowler in Kansas, according to Great Plains United States Bowling Congress. She’s been bowling for 37 years.
Watson bowls in the league every Tuesday. Her team, The Rollabouts, consists of her and three other bowlers — Johnny and Kay Kirk and Carol Mesa. Watson has roughly 30 years on her teammates. The league, for bowlers 50 and older, has 12 teams.
“There’s quite a few teams and they change, you know. I don’t know everybody real well because over time, people drop out,” she said. “And I don’t drop out.”
Dan Wedel, who’s been bowling in the league for 10 years, said everyone knows Maggi.
“She helps everybody out,” he said. “Everybody loves Maggi.”
Watson averages 111 but said she used to knock down higher numbers when she threw a heavier ball.
“That 10-pound ball got too heavy for me,” she said.
Watson now uses eight-pound balls provided by The Alley. She said they don’t quite fit her hand properly, but she doesn’t let that get in her way.
“I have a tendency to pitch it pretty fast. Pretty hard,” she said.
Her teammates agree.
“I hope I can bowl as well as her at her age. I hope I can even walk at her age,” Johnny Kirk said with a laugh.
Watson grew up in Ensign, a town 15 miles outside of Dodge City. She moved to Wichita in 1945 and started the Occupation Therapy unit at the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
She had only bowled a handful of times before her retirement from the VA Medical Center in 1979. That’s when she and her late husband, Norman Watson, joined a league at Boulevard Bowl, the alley that used to be open behind the old Coca-Cola plant.
When Boulevard Bowl closed, their league moved to another location. Watson said they bowled there until it closed in 2004 and then the league moved to The Alley. Watson has been bowling there ever since.
The Alley “and that movie theater were the only things there when it was built,” she said. “Now, it’s all developed.”
Watson, who still has her driver’s license and lives on her own, said bowling is a great way to stay in shape.
“I enjoy it, and it’s good exercise,” she said. “I don’t exercise that much in between.”
When she’s not bowling, Watson likes to spend her time reading mystery or suspense novels, attending Sunday school and church at First United Methodist Church, going to Delta Zeta alumni gatherings or watching professional bowling.
Watson paid extra to expand her cable package to include channels that broadcast professional bowling tournaments, she said. They usually air from December to April.
“A lot of it’s on Sunday, right at noon — the big competitions,” she said. “So I come home and watch church on TV because [bowling] starts right at 12. If it’s going to be on, I come and watch it.”
Watson said the best game of her career was a 235. She doesn’t focus too much on her scores, though.
In bowling, and in life, she said the best thing to do is not sweat the little stuff.
“Don’t worry. That’s the advice I give everybody,” she said. “If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, let it go.”
Watson said she wasn’t too concerned with being one of the oldest bowlers in the state, either. She just wants to keep bowling.
“I don’t quit. I’m not a quitter. I’m going to bowl as long as they’ll let me and as long as I can,” she said. “So, if I can still throw a ball down there at 100, I’ll do it then.”