LGBT individuals from around the country will converge on the Philadelphia area this weekend to take part in a 21st-birthday party that will be celebrated not in a bar but a bowling alley.
The 21st-annual Liberty Belle Invitational Tournament kicks off July 3 and is expected to attract about 200 LGBT and ally bowlers and spectators.
Competitions will be held July 3-5 at Laurel Lanes, 2825 Route 73 South, in Maple Shade, N.J., about a 15-minute drive from the city. The tournament will also feature bar events and other social opportunities.
The Philadelphia Gay Bowling League is one of dozens throughout throughout North America with competitors in the tournament, an affiliate of the International Gay Bowling Organization.
Phil Maceno, the event’s fundraising director, said planning for this year’s tournament has been a year-long task and included a number of additional fundraising events to compensate for the economic downturn.
“What I’ve done to counteract [the economic conditions] is basically just busted my butt and done more than what we normally would have done to make up for it,” Maceno said. “We did notice a big difference, but this year we tried to raise the bar a little bit and have a few more fundraisers.”
Tournament officials have spearheaded raffles, bar nights and monthly roller-skating parties, held on the third Monday of each month at Cherry Hill Skating Center in New Jersey — the latter of which has become a significant draw for the group.
“[Rollerskating is] a major pastime for people and has become a really big thing that people enjoy and something that we’re becoming known for,” he said.
While the fundraisers garnered money for the tournament, they also helped to raise donation dollars for local LGBT health clinic Mazzoni Center. Ten percent of all money raised during the events throughout the year was contributed to the center, which will also benefit from 10 percent of all raffle sales made during the tournament.
“We’ve developed a really great bond with [Mazzoni] and helped to cross-promote one another and get our names out there,” said Ralph Fera, tournament director. “We have a really good relationship with them, and people feel good when they’re coming to our events knowing that the money raised is not just benefiting the tournament but is also going to a really great charity.”
The tournament itself will feature singles, doubles and four-person competitions, with top prizes of $500 for the winners of each category, as well as a $500 prize for the all-events winner.
Bowlers who don’t place can also get a big payoff, as Fera noted there will be about $7,000 in raffle prizes given away during the tournament, including trips to Washington, D.C., New York City and a “takeover” of a bed and breakfast in Rehoboth Beach, Del., for the winner and more than a dozen of his or her friends.
Although bowlers don’t need to be “experts” to compete in the tournament, they do need to be a member of one of the certified IGBO leagues and have an established average.
The tournament will feature a diverse representation of age, with bowlers from their 20s to their 60s. About 75 percent of the bowlers are male, which Fera said is relatively standard in many of the leagues.
Fera noted that in the tournament’s 21 years of operation, participation in the event has waxed and waned, guided mainly by the economy at the time, ranging from 125 bowlers to a sold-out crowd of 250.
Fera said the tournament committee considered moving the event from the usual Fourth of July holiday one year to boost involvement from local bowlers, but that the difference in attendance wasn’t noticeable enough to warrant a permanent change.
“Fourth of July and the Liberty Bell are everything that Philadelphia is about,” he said. “Out-of-town bowlers love coming to the city this weekend because we pair up the tournament with Welcome America! and all the stuff going on in the city. This offers the best all-around package for a fun trip because most people are not here just to bowl.”
Fera noted that the networking and social opportunities afforded by the tournament are often even more important to the bowlers than the competition.
“Yes, you’re bowling, but it’s also just as much, if not even more, for many people a social event. When you’re bowling against 200 people, no matter how well you bowl, not everyone can win, so we try to make it as entertaining and enjoyable as possible because it’s not just about the competition. We’re competitive to some extent, but for the most part, bowling’s bowling; it’s a night out with friends, drinking, laughing and just having a good time.”
Maceno said LGBT bowling in general is an ideal outlet for LGBT individuals looking to become more active in their local communities.
“It’s a great opportunity for individuals, whether they’re single or in relationships, to socialize and meet other people, other folks who might have common interests,” Maceno said. “It’s another way to have fun and not have to rely on the bar scene to do so. It’s just a ton of fun.”