CEDAR RAPIDS — Few people knew Tom and Elizabeth Trcka were expecting a baby girl when they officially bought a bowling alley where Tom had worked as a teenager.
It was Feb. 14, 1995. They joked the 32 lanes would be their Valentine’s Day gifts to each other forever.
Twenty-five years later, May City Bowl still is their present — and their now 24-year-old daughter was a high school bowling state champion.
The popularity of bowling, and the Trckas’ center, goes through phases, Tom Trcka said.
“In my 25 years, we’ve had some really good times, we’ve had some times where it was a little tougher, but we’ve always had a pretty good league base,” he said. “If you can have a good league base, you can get through it.”
When the young couple bought May City Bowl, 1648 Trent St. SW, it was one of seven bowling centers in Cedar Rapids. It’s since become one of three — part of a national trend of closing alleys since the 1970s, according to the White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group.
Between the mid-1960s and 2007, the Kansas City-based consultant found, more than half of U.S. centers closed thanks in part to a steady decline in league bowling. Tom Trcka said most of the leagues at May City Bowl last between 30 and 35 weeks, or about eight months.
“A lot of the younger generation doesn’t want to commit to that,” he said. “But they’ll come in and bowl four or five times a year maybe, instead of 30 weeks.”
While league participation has fallen, the Trckas said open bowling — groups who walk in hoping to bowl a game or two — has increased. Nationally, the rate of open bowling has been steady.
“We don’t have leagues on Friday nights anymore, those kind of went away,” Tom Trcka said. “But Friday night is a good night not to have them.”
Several Trckas are behind May City Bowl’s longevity, including Tom’s brother who handles mechanics, a teenage son who “gets whatever needs to be done” and Tom’s 85-year-old father, Tom Sr.
The family embarks on a project in the center every year, Elizabeth Trcka said. This year, they hope to finish installing automatic bumpers on every lane.
“There’s not too many places we haven’t touched,” she said, as her daughter, Tara, chimed in with memories of tearing carpeting off the walls. “That’s a story in itself. It was ungodly.”
The general public demands a modern space, she said, and often won’t return after a bad — or dirty — first impression.
Andy Diercks, head coach of Mount Mercy University’s women’s bowling team, sees Tom dusting the alley gutters every morning during 6 a.m. practices.
“It should be said how much they give back to youth bowling,” he said. “Mount Mercy has developed a pretty successful program, 100 percent because we were here at May City. … There’s more than just work, there’s just a lot of giving, and there’s a lot of people that owe a lot of their livelihoods and success to the center.”
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Tom Trcka coaches for Xavier High School, and teams from Jefferson High and Isaac Newton Christian Academy also practice at the center.
“We’ve had weddings in here, grad parties, a lot of families who have grown up here,” Elizabeth Trcka said. “There are a lot of people who come in and either started bowling at an early age and are now in our adult leagues or they work here. We’ve seen them through life.”
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