Richard Shaner had already turned away from the lane and was walking back to his seat, when his ball arced into two pins, sending them careening into one last pin still standing, and clearing the set.

"You got the spare, Rich," Joe Kucinskas said excitedly to his blind teammate. Being sighted himself, Kucinskas explained the precise configuration of pins Shaner had felled to earn the spare.

"You don't think that's what I was trying to do?" Shaner asked, grinning.

Shaner, 69, has been the president of the Philadelphia Area Blind Bowlers since the league's inception in 1979. Since then, the league, a local chapter of the nationwide American Blind Bowling Association, has met most Saturdays from September through April.

The Philadelphia Area Blind Bowlers league plays at the Thunderbird Lanes in Northeast Philadelphia and consists of sighted bowlers and legally blind bowlers.
GENEVA HEFFERNAN / Staff Photographer
The Philadelphia Area Blind Bowlers league plays at the Thunderbird Lanes in Northeast Philadelphia and consists of sighted bowlers and legally blind bowlers.

The bowlers convene at Thunderbird Lanes on Holme Avenue in the Northeast, starting practice at 12:15 p.m. They start scoring shortly after, playing three games.

On Saturday, a guide dog, a yellow Lab named Ferres, snoozed contentedly behind a chair piled with coats, enjoying the break from his duties.

Shaner, blinded while serving with the Marines in Vietnam, wore a U.S. Marine Corps crew-neck sweater and a bald head, while he readied himself seconds before with one hand on a metal railing, as is customary for blind bowling leagues. The sense of competition and the chance for socializing keep him coming back, Shaner said. He averages scores in the mid-80s these days, about even with what an average casual bowler might put on the board.

Bowling "is something I remember visually," Shaner said. "When I was sighted, I wasn't too bad a bowler. Even when I was in the Marine Corps, I wasn't too terrible — I was like a 150-160 bowler."

Shaner is one of 16 bowlers in the four-team league, each team with three blind and one sighted bowler. The league is diverse, although most players are older. Some are blind, others partially so. Skill levels vary, and there are no bumper guards.

Rodney Watlington plays in the Philadelphia Area Blind Bowlers league at the Thunderbird Lanes in Northeast Philadelphia.
GENEVA HEFFERNAN / Staff Photographer
Rodney Watlington plays in the Philadelphia Area Blind Bowlers league at the Thunderbird Lanes in Northeast Philadelphia.

Some drop the ball with a thud and a slow roll. Others, like Rodney Watlington, 52, who is partially blind, send the ball streaming confidently down the lane, tallying strikes without showing much more reaction than a meek smile.

Watlington, who joined the league this year, still bowls weekly in standard leagues. He boasts a 195 average, without the assistance of the rail.

"I didn't know I was as good as they say I am," Watlington said, his name stitched onto the back of his red polo in felt letters, a distinction that also set him apart from the other bowlers. "I guess my average speaks for itself."

In the summer, the league members meet at Tiffany's Diner on Roosevelt Boulevard to celebrate the season and give awards including Most Improved, Best Game, and Best Three-Game Series.

Shaner praised the help of the sighted bowlers.

"It's a tight line to walk, because obviously the sighted bowlers, this to them is more giving than it is receiving," Shaner said. "They're bowling and they're having fun, allegedly, but what they're really doing is they're working their butts off, making sure they're spotting pins, making sure the rails are straight."

There were other leagues in the area when the league formed, but founding members wanted one in the Northeast.

Teresa Verlinghieri, 68, has been traveling from South Philly every Saturday for eight years to bowl in the league. She also bowls Monday nights in Drexel Hill with the Delaware Valley Blind Bowlers.

Teresa “Terry” Verlinghieri is one of two women currently in the Philadelphia Area Blind Bowlers league.
GENEVA HEFFERNAN / Staff Photographer
Teresa “Terry” Verlinghieri is one of two women currently in the Philadelphia Area Blind Bowlers league.

When asked how it feels to hear her sighted teammate announce she rolled a strike or a spare, Verlinghieri smiled.

"Oh, I love it!" she said.  "I get so excited and I encourage my other teammates to do the same. I'm very competitive; I don't like to lose."

Her name was called. So, Verlinghieri steadied herself on the guard rail and knocked all but a few pins down. With the next roll, she cleared the other pins.

Her sighted teammate called the spare.

"All right!" she said, clapping all the way back to her seat. "Here we go! Here we go!"