WHEELING - If you've never heard of old-fashioned Irish road bowling, Bill O'Leary invites you to come to Wheeling Park on Saturday and see what it's all about - and he promises you one heck of a good time.
The Irish Road Bowling 2012 Ohio Valley Championship starts with registration at noon at Wheeling Park's Sonneborn Shelter. The event, in its third year, is hosted by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a local Catholic men's organization, with a portion of the participation fees going to charity, according to O'Leary.
The sport dates back to 17th century Ireland, and the rules of the game are relatively simple. Team members take turns throwing a steel ball that weighs about 2 pounds and is a little smaller than a tennis ball down a country road. The spot where the ball either stops or leaves the road surface is marked, and the next team member must throw from behind that mark. The team that requires the fewest number of throws to reach the finish line is declared the winner.
STEEL BALL USED — Bill O’Leary of Wheeling displays a 2-pound steel ball used in the sport of Irish road bowling. The third-annual Irish Road Bowling Ohio Valley Championship takes place Saturday afternoon along Boggs Hill Road in Wheeling. -- Ian Hicks
About 160 bowlers on 34 teams competed last year, and O'Leary said with each passing year he sees more and more spectators enjoying the action from lawn chairs along the course.
"It's a lot of fun just to go out and watch. ... You wouldn't believe how much fun people have," O'Leary said, noting things can get pretty comical when someone hurls a wayward shot. "Sometimes the ball will go in a field and the cows start moving and running around."
While teams traditionally advance the ball by throwing it, O'Leary said some people prefer to just roll it down the road, which is just fine.
"If you throw it, sometimes it bounces and goes right in the ditch," he said.
Following registration on Saturday, participants will be shuttled from the shelter to the start of the approximately 1.25-mile course, which begins at the intersection of Brown's Run Road and Boggs Hill Road and proceeds back to Wheeling Park.
After the competition is over, which O'Leary said usually takes a couple hours, there will be dinner at the shelter at 4 p.m. followed by a couple hours of live music and dancing at 4:30 p.m.
Winners receive trophies and bragging rights.
The cost of dinner is included in the participation fee, though O'Leary said it doesn't cost anything to come out and watch.