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October 10, 2016

Bowls Resurrection - A Surgical Solution to the Playdowns - Part 1 of 3

There has been much discussion surrounding Provincial Playdowns over the years. A plethora of patchwork solutions get offered each year, and these days most of it seems to be spread through social media, the great water cooler of the internet. Most of the comments we see posted in social media, and that I hear from bowlers are centred around complaints of what is wrong with the system. Too many times there is no solution offered. Even where a solution is offered, most of them are simply reworks of a dreadfully broken existing system of play. On one thing though everyone I speak with can agree. The system is broken. So how do we fix it? A brief history of the playdowns Let’s go back a few years… ok… several decades! Next year will be my 49th year in Bowls but it has been many years since I have seriously taken part in the Provincial playdowns. Back in the old days we would often have upwards of 30 singles players show up on a Sunday to play a single knock out competition, up to 20 pairs teams on another given Sunday, and occasionally even break the double digit mark in fours teams for that district competition. That was in the days when we had twice as many bowlers in Ontario folks! For those who don’t remember or who weren’t there you played your first stage (Fours) in one of 16 District Playdowns and if victorious went on to play a round robin with 3 other teams in one of the 4 appropriate Zone Playdowns. If you won there you showed up and played a 3 game round robin to determine the Provincial Fours Champion. Meanwhile the Pairs and Singles has gone through a similar process. On the day of the Ontario Championships the Fours, Pairs and Singles Champions were all declared. If you won your District Fours and lost in your Zones that was it for you in the Ontario Playdowns that year. A little harsh but at least if you lost your District Fours you tried again in the District Pairs, and if you lost that you tried again in the District Singles. Three chances to make it through to the Zones. One chance to make it from the Zones to the Ontario Finals. All in all five weekends were taken up with Provincial Playdowns and in the case of the Districts usually only one day was burnt as apparently we had more stamina in those days and played four or five games in a day. That left us with plenty of time and energy to play in other events both locally and province wide. We had lots of time to support both our own club and those to which we travelled… and travel we did. We had time to pick and choose the competitions we attended, to pick and choose the level of competition we chose. In our case we chose to play at the elite level competitions at least a couple of times a month, travelling 6 hours per day and sometimes 10 - 12 on a weekend to bang heads against the best in the province. Why did we travel this much? Because we knew the best were going to be there, that every game meant something… and yes because of the love of the game! Colts and Fillies were the Novice event back then and yes they were played in the same fashion as the “regular” Playdowns, and were declared on the same Ontario Championships weekend. So, we had 4 events… Fours, Pairs, Singles, Colts/Fillies… with twice as many players and far more competitors than we have today! Because this only took 5 days to play we had open weekends when we could spend time supporting other club’s tournaments, where we could travel to various other tournaments throughout the province, and still be left with time to spend with family. That was then and it seemed so simple! Fast Forward 40 years!   These days we have events coming out our ying yang (whatever that means!), basically tying up each and every weekend throughout the bowls season. What do we have… maybe 23 or 24 weekends of play here in Ontario? And I’d harken to guess that over 80% of those are taken up playing some form of a Playdown! So… 16 weekends… not days… weekends. In some cases the Playdowns are run on weekdays, in direct conflict with a club tournament. Now that makes sense doesn’t it!? We have: Fours, Pairs, Singles, Novice Triples, Triples, Senior Triples, Mixed Pairs with the possibility of Open Fours coming? I know I’m missing a few here so forgive me if I’m a bit confused. Why have we added so many new events when our numbers have dropped in half in the last few decades? Who has this serviced? We look at participation and some try and compare total entries with other years, but what you have to compare is the number of individuals who actually participate, not total entires. Put up your hand if you played in 4 or more of the above listed playdowns this year. Put up your hand if you played in all of them. Put it back down, because you’re probably exhausted enough from all that travel. If you played in the District playdowns and made it through as a winner… or (gasp!) alternate and didn’t win at the provincial level then you have effectively blown off 14 weekends this year. What if you happen to win! You get to spend your kids college fund or your retirement fund travelling to some beat up green across Canada and bunker down in who knows what bed bug infested hotel (ok, that may be a bit extreme) to compete for one of our vaunted Canadian Championships. In the old days you could name tech Canadian Champions from the present year, the past year and many years before that. You could quote how many Canadians Jim Law had won. I wonder just how many can even remember who won the Canadians in this present year! Think about it! What were you doing before you got caught up in the mess that is now our playdowns? I have spoken with bowlers who are absolutely wiped out by the amount of travel to playdowns/finals. To a person they wish there were fewer of these events so that they could stay a little closer to home and play in some local tournaments. Hmmm, yes, that would mean supporting their local clubs! What a novel idea that would be!

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