History of The Big 20 Bowling
Written by Karen Vachon and Rick Jones
as told by Chris Anton
November 30th, 1950 was an exciting
day. The 'State O Maine Bowling Center', known today as "The
Big 20 Bowling Center" opened its doors on Route 1 in Scarborough.
Originally, the 20 lane center featured four different games:
Candlepin, 10 Pin, Duck Pin and the popular game known as
Canadian 5 Pin. At the time of its construction, it was the
largest in the state, with 20 noted officials being the first
to take to the lanes. From sports casters and radio station
managers, to New England Bowling champions to candlepin promoters,
this was a grand opening not to be missed.
Visitors and Route 1 travelers
will still see the original name, "State O Maine" proudly
displayed on the building's signage. There was a local contest
with a cash prize to name the center and "State O Maine" was
the winner, with The Big 20 a close second. "The Big 20" seemed
to roll off most peoples tongues and became the business name
within a couple of year of the Grand Opening.
Albanian born Sofokli (Mike)
Anton had come to America when he was five. Bowling was in
his family's blood. His family has settled in Biddeford and
his father had built a bowling alley in Saco during the depression.
On Biddeford's Main street, that center featured candlepin
bowling, billiards and roller skating. In 1939, Mike built
a bowling alley: 20th Century Lanes on Franklin Street in Biddeford.
From there, Mike brought bowling to Scarborough. This also
meant a job for Mike's son, Chris who is still the current
owner of The Big 20. The Anton family made Scarborough their
home in 1952. When Mike retired from the business in 1977,
his son Chris purchased the center from him. Chris's sights
were originally set on business school, but when the Korean
War broke out, his plans changed. The Big 20 had been a part
of his life since its opening day he decided to stay with
the family business.
The center provided many jobs
for many of Scarborough's youth because when the center was
first built in 1950, there were no such things as automated
pin setters. "Pin Boys" as they were called set up the pins
and sent the bowling balls back to the bowler. During those
days, the "boys" received a nickel a string to set up the
pins. It wasn't until the year 1954, when Mike got 10 automatic
pin setters for the candlepin lanes and 2 years later, all
20 lanes became fully automated for candlepin.
Always looking to advance the
sport, Channel 13's candlepin Bowling Show debuted on October
8th, 1960 broadcast from the Big 20. TV would be the lure to
get more people into the sport and into the Maine Bowling
Centers. The show was a live broadcast, and the bowlers showed
up. Leading the way was Chris Anton, a bowling champ in his
own right being the first bowler on the show.
Over the years, The Big 20 has
hosted three world championships, two junior world championships
and numerous Maine State championships, adding to its rich
bowling history, drawing bowlers from all over New England
and Atlantic Canada along the way. In 1980, the Big 20 Bowling
Center was the first Candlepin Center in the state to be inducted
into the Candlepin Hall of Fame for its contribution and dedication
to the sport. The center, to this day, continues to contribute
to the Town of Scarborough's economy as they bring guests
into area hotels and restaurants, and provide a terrific and
affordable form of family entertainment for local residents