By Jennifer Guertin
The BYU Games Center is dark now, the bowling balls” rumble replaced with the rattle of power tools. But once the Center drew crowds from around campus – students gathering by the hundreds for midnight parties or bowling tournaments.
When the center first opened in June 1964, it stretched over much of the Wilkinson Center”s first floor, filling the area now occupied by the lounge and Outdoors Unlimited.
Students could bowl for 35 cents a game plus 10 cents for shoe rental. The center also boasted 12 Ping Pong tables, which could be rented for 30 cents an hour. Miniature golf, shuffleboard and a player piano soon added to the fun.
“It was definitely the hot spot of activity,” said Michael Wooten, one of about 20 student employees who staffed the Games Center in the 1970s. “It was packed – except during finals. During that time, they could almost shut it down.”
When throngs of students descended on the bowling alley, the wait to bowl often stretched over an hour and a half. While waiting, students could pump the player piano or check out board games.
“Pit was the big one,” said Mike Rose, another 1970s student employee. “But they also had checkers, chess, an old wooden Skittles game – all sorts of old fashioned fun when PacMan was the new kid on the block.”
An ice cream parlor within the Games Center offered refreshment to waiting students.
“The grasshopper crepes were the best things,” Wooten said. “Mint chocolate chip ice cream in a crepe with chocolate syrup and maraschino cherries. I wish I could have one of those now.”
Wooten said once, while he was working out front, a girl smashed her ice cream cone in his face.
“I guess she liked me,” he said. “But I was dense and didn”t catch on.”
Other employees stuck notes in the bowling ball holes before sending them up to patrons.
“Just silly things,” Rose said. “Mostly, they sent them to friends, but sometimes to a pretty girl – to tell them they were doing well or ask for a date. It was just an opportunity to surprise people.”
Rose said he never sent notes, but the Games Center played a part in his own romance as well.
One night while he prepared to close the center, his fianc?”s mission president called.
“He told me she was confused, and I needed to talk to her,” he said. “But I couldn”t. I was in the middle of counting money.”
Rose drove to the mission home the next morning. Six months later, he and his fianc? were married.
Working at the Games Center provided employees a unique opportunity for social interaction, but Wooten and Rose agreed it was hard work.
Often, employees climbed up into the machines to clean them or to un-jam pins only to hear the trouble bell go off and have to climb back out to see what had happened.
Once Rose answered the trouble bell to find someone had thrown a bowling ball through the ceiling.
“There was this guy looking real sheepish,” he said. “Apparently, he had gotten one of those light balls and his thumb got stuck in the hole. It went straight up and busted a few of the ceiling tiles. Luckily it stayed up there.”
When there weren”t machines to fix or customers to wait on, employees were expected to spray the bowling shoes and repair laces.
For their effort, student employees started at $1.65 an hour.
“We worked like dogs,” Wooten said. “I went and worked at a construction job right after. It wasn”t any harder, and it paid $10 an hour.”
Still, Wooten said he was glad for the chance to work at the Games Center. Rose agreed.
“It was a pretty cheery job,” he said. “There are times at work now that I sure wish I could do a shift at the Games Center instead.”