Brian Langdon, of Syracuse, is the first to admit bowling isn’t what it used to be. The 58-year-old bowler has seen the number of league bowlers slowly drop year after year and the neighborhood bowling centers Langdon grew up in like the Ukrainian Club on Wilbur Ave. no longer exist.
“Things have changed,” says Langdon, who lives in the Tipperary Hill area.
But Langdon refuses to give on the sport without a fight. For the last 30 years, Langdon has served as secretary/treasurer of the Sackett Tract League, believed to be the oldest sanctioned bowling league in the city. The league is celebrating its 60th season this year thanks to the efforts of Langdon.
“Brian is the main reason the league is still going,” league member Jeff Gancarz says.
The league holds fond memories for both Langdon and Gancarz, who lived a few streets a part on Syracuse’s west side and went to grade school together at Sacred Heart. As youngsters, Langdon and Gancarz would tag along with their dads when they bowled in the Sackett Tract League at the Ukrainian Club.
“It was a family event for us,” Langdon says. “My dad bowled in the league. I have seven brothers and they have all bowled in the league. It’s a tradition and I have to keep it going. I don’t want it to stop. My son, Brian Jr., bowls in it now.”
The league started out as a rotating travel league at the four-lane Polish Home on Park Ave. and the eight-lane Polish Legion of American Veterans on West Genesee St. The league found a permanent home in the early 1960s at the 16-lane Ukrainian Club. The league’s name derives from a city tract that stretches from the west to the north side.
Twelve Syracuse Bowling Association hall of famers have bowled in the league including Stan Deptula, current member Dom Cefalo and long-time secretary John Smorol Sr. Smorol, who turned 91 last December, got the league rolling in 1954 with three other bowlers including hall of famer Joe Lewandowski. There have only been two secretaries in league history, Smorol and Langdon.
Gancarz, of Camillus, says the league peaked at 32 teams during its heyday in the 1980s. Teams were divided into two divisions that bowled in shifts at 6:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. The Ukrainian Club, a split house, was always at capacity with eight lanes upstairs and eight lanes downstairs.
“There was a waiting list to get into the league,” Langdon said. “Many of the league sponsors had businesses along the tract — 7-Up Bottling Company, the Skylight Bar on Park Ave., Parkview Restaurant.”
When the Ukrainian Club closed in 1994, Sackett Tract moved to the Polish American Citizens Club on Teall Ave. After the PACC shut down its lanes in 2011, the league headed to another old-school bowling center, the Pastimes Athletic Club on N. Salina St.
Jim Clancy, the league’s president for the last 20 years, has been bowling in the league for 52 years. He says the league has never been exclusively about winning or bowling a high score. Eight four-person teams made up of men and women currently bowl in the league.
“I bowl in it because of the people,” says Clancy, of Syracuse. “It’s a night out. People bring food every week. We have music playing. Everyone has a good time even if you bowl badly.”
For Langdon, the Sackett Tract is a family legacy. Four sets of father and sons are members this season.
“It’s a special league,” Langdon says. “The fact that it started out as a family affair for me and now other families are bowling in it makes it special.”