PEORIA — After more than three months of being closed because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the area bowling centers in central Illinois are set to reopen on Friday, the first day of Phase 4 – the revitalization phase – of Governor JB Pritzker's reopening plan.


Some bowlers who couldn’t wait that long to get back to the lanes have gone on excursions to neighboring states that had earlier opening days for bowling centers.


But most area bowlers will be trying to make up for all of the lost time away from their favorite sport – probably as quickly as possible.


Their experience, however, will not be the same because of the new guidelines and safety protocols that have been put in place specifically for bowling centers.


These have been established with the help of the Illinois State Bowling Proprietors Association and the Bowling Proprietors Association of America.


The ISBPA has sent all of its centers reopening kits that include hand sanitizer, face shields and social distancing floor decals to "Spare Some Space" or "Keep Your Distance," using an illustration of the 7-10 split as an example.


"Not all centers are part of the BPAA program," said Gary Alstott, the proprietor of Plaza Lanes in Washington. "But a lot has been going on behind the scenes to get bowling back on track to be included in the Phase 4 reopening.


"I can tell you that if it wasn’t for the Illinois State BPAA, bowling would not be part of the next phase."


Centers will only be able to operate either at half capacity or with a maximum of 50 customers. The ISBPAA was still hoping for 50 percent capacity as of Monday. All employees should be wearing face masks and gloves during cleaning and other tasks. Customers also will be required to wear a mask when they enter the centers, but will be allowed to remove it in the bowling area.


Alstott’s second center, Plaza Lanes in Crawfordsville, Ind., has been open for a few days. The response has been slow so far.


"The first four days were pretty slow, mostly league bowlers who really missed bowling and wanted to get back into the center," Alstott said. "I think it’s going to be a slow recovery for open-play business, as consumers need to feel confident about how things are progressing.


"I don’t have final numbers for Indiana, but I’m expecting 20 percent of what we normally do, at best."


He added that tournaments held in the St. Louis and Nashville areas in the past few weeks have been attracting plenty of interest.


"People have been coming out and supporting these events, which is great," Alstott said. "Most of these events have sold out or close to it, so I expect this to continue into July-August, as competitive bowling might be the way to help keep bowling centers busy during these slow times."


In Illinois, bowlers also will have to return to the lanes on a gradual basis. Chances are, they won’t be as sharp as they were before the shutdown.


"My suggestion would be to start slow," said Danielle van der Meer of the Perfect Angle Pro Shop at Plaza Lanes in Washington. "When getting back into bowling, start with drills and make sure to warm up properly."


Bowlers also could get their game in shape before arriving at the center.


"If bowlers plan on bowling competitively, start swinging the ball in the house," said Eddie Flanigan of the Maxxx Revs Pro Shop at Landmark Lanes. "Maybe throwing the ball into the other hand if they know how, or rolling into a safe area (pillows, cushions etc.).


"I would also suggest doing lunges and squats. In my opinion, the legs and butt will be the most sore on the body."


Kathleen Hermacinski, a Peoria River City USBC Association vice president, can attest to that. She recently made a trip to Davenport, Iowa, to get some practice in at Big River Bowling.


"I was limping from my left leg/butt area, which was was soooooo tight," she said. "My right shoulder was a little sore and my back was tight. I’d do it all over again, though!!"


Four-time city youth champion Austin Hall also went to Iowa for some early practice, and it took him a couple of games to get loose.


"It felt great, but everything was rust," he said. "After a game or two, it came back to me and I started throwing good shots. It was a big relief to finally get back on the lanes."


Bowlers should do some proper stretching before starting each bowling session (which is generally a good idea before any physical activity), and maybe even get some lessons from area instructors.


Bowling equipment also might have to be modified.


"If your thumb has gotten smaller in the past few weeks – which is very likely – use tape inside the thumb hole to make it fit snug, so that you don’t squeeze," van der Meer said. "Don’t be surprised if it takes three-to-five pieces of tape.


"If you use grips, you can tighten those, too, with a piece of a business card or straw between the grip and ball surface."


Flanigan added that some bowlers might need to drill a smaller interchangeable thumb, or use tape on the old ones to account for the inactivity.


Bowlers also should check their bowling balls for cracks and sweating.


"If the bowling balls have sat for all those weeks, it might be good to clean them well, or drop them off at your pro shop and have them de-oiled and resurfaced," van der Meer said. "And if your bowling balls have weight holes, plan to have them filled before August 1st!"


Bowling balls with weight/balance holes will no longer be legal in sanctioned competition when the new season begins on that date.


And with the new social distancing guidelines, the day of hand slapping could be a thing of the past.


"I would suggest not giving high fives or touching other bowlers’ bowling balls/equipment," Flanigan said.


In the recent PBA Strike Derby and Summer Clash telecasts, the pros involved used foot and elbow bumps, or even "air fives" to celebrate after some good shots.


And now, bowlers in Illinois finally will have something to celebrate for themselves when they are able to return to the lanes this weekend.


Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or at jcampos@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.