SOUTH BELOIT—After having nothing but time while Viking Lanes was closed for over three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dave Cliffe suddenly finds himself dealing with a pressure-packed deadline.
Tuesday morning he was busy programming a brand new state-of-the-art scoring system for the 24-lane bowling center with the first night of league bowling just hours away.
“It’s going to be tight, but we’ll have it done in time,” Cliffe said with a grin.
The manager of Viking since 2016, Cliffe said the scoring system is the most recent innovation at the facility, which underwent an impressive facelift during the pandemic layoff.
“We closed March 16 and for nearly three months I was the only one here,” he said. “I got a lot of work done on the (bowling) machines. Then a PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan allowed us to bring back a few employees. We replaced the floor on the bowling deck and in the bar and we painted everything.”
Cliffe said Viking Lanes had a steady increase in business prior to the shutdown, then when it was able to reopen, open bowling was very popular. With Beloit’s last remaining bowling center, Diamond Lanes, not opening for league bowling there has been an influx of new teams at Viking, too.
“Overall, we’ve had a real good league base,” Cliffe said. “Our bowlers are loyal. Our league have gone up every year and open bowling has been phenomenal. Diamond closing has sent us a lot of additional league bowlers. We picked up an entire six-team league from Diamond that bowls Friday nights. I’m not sure how many bowlers we’ll add all together because this is just the first night tonight, but it’s going to be quite a few.
“Unfortunately, I think it will be like when Bowl-Aire Lanes closed. If we can’t fit them in, or Clinton or Janesville, some people just quit bowling. Our association was at 1,300 and went down to 600. We picked up a lot, but we’ll lose some.”
Viking had already picked up many of Beloit’s junior bowlers last year. That program begins this Saturday.
Viking is now the only game in town. It opened in 1962 and survived a flood in 1973 that caused all the lanes to need replacement. The center was completely redone again in 1988.
Cliffe has been at Viking for 48 years, taking over as manager when Bob “Chips” Ciarpaglini retired. The center is owned by John Sommer, who also owns Don Carter Lanes and Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
“Over the summer the old scoring system we installed in 1996 was freezing up,” Cliffe said. “John Sommer made a really big commitment not only to us, but our association and community deciding to put a new system in.”
Safety guidelines due to COVID-19 require masks in certain areas of the facility, although bowlers need not wear them while they are bowling.
“We follow whatever the Winnebago County guidelines are,” Cliffe said. “All the open bowlers leave everything for us to sanitize everything—balls, shoes, score consoles, chairs, ball returns, everything. It’s a lot of work.
For every 50 bowlers, Cliffe must make sure there is a buffer, an unused lane.
“For instance we have one league which will bowl on lanes 1-16, skip 17 and 18 and bowl on 19 through 22,” he said.
Cliffe said holding the moonlight bowling fundraisers as well as tournaments “will be tricky,” but he’s ready to be creative.
“We’ll have all the city tournaments and the Daily News Tournament,” Cliffe said. “Hopefully by that time (the pandemic) is over. But if not, we’ll do what we have to do.”
Viking is also home to the school teams from Hononegah and South Beloit. Cliffe said he is reaching out to Beloit Memorial and Turner, too.
“I know Hononegah is condensing its season and not going to weekend tournaments like it usually does,” Cliffe said. “They’re down to eight matches. It’s rough. They plan on starting in October, but you know everything is always up in the air.”