Pennsylvania’s beloved Dutchman Bolony Tourney celebrates its 75th year
At a certain point, a bowling tournament becomes more than just a bowling tournament. It may happen when your annual entries climb into the four digits. It may be when it becomes wholly intertwined with a town's cherished century-plus-old smokehouse. It could be when the folks involved shift to the next generation (or the next after that). The Dutchman Bolony Bowling Tourney, which celebrated its 75th anniversary at Palmyra Bowling in Palmyra, PA, and Clearview Lanes in Mount Joy, PA, checks off all the above and more. “I love this tournament,” said Amy Eiserman, Dutchman’s director and proprietor of Palmyra Bowling. "People come in and tell me, 'This is my 46th year.' And I love that. They say, 'I can finally bowl with my kids this year.' Things like that keep me going and make it special.”
The numbers on their own are impressive enough:
- 1,290 teams competing in 2023, their highest number ever
- 3,420 pairs of doubles and nearly 7,000 single bowlers across all events
- A prize pool even greater than $452,000, 2022’s final number
- 3,000 Seltzer’s Lebanon Bolognas (don’t you dare call it “baloney”) ordered for prizes and giveaways
But the true mark of the value of this event can be found in how the bowlers, staff, and people in the area talk about it. The way they come back, year after year, bringing friends and passing on the traditions to their kids and grandkids. It’s more than a tournament. It’s a story of kin, deep connections, small businesses succeeding even through tough times, and smoked meat.
A Family Affair
The Dutchman has always been a big part of Amy Eiserman’s life. She has been vital to Palmyra Bowling's center operations since 1998 and took over as tournament manager in 2009, succeeding her parents, Doug and Sue Eiserman, who started to oversee it in 1983. The tourney was first created by her former bookkeeper's father in 1948. Amy has managed to increase the numbers in her time and has implemented a longer season (this year's runs from March through August) to accommodate as many groups as possible. Still, the format remains the same
as the years go by. Bowlers can participate in a variety of singles, doubles, or team divisions, registering up to three times, with further opportunities available in the form of optional singles, Bolony Bank events, and special weekends with cash prizes and other bonuses.
Rather than huge payouts for the top few bowlers, the amounts cascade down to offer a higher chance of taking something home. “As my father used to say, we’re not a top-heavy tournament,” Amy said. “We prefer to pay out lots of people. We want people to be excited about coming back and winning.”
She comes by these lessons and this passion honestly. Doug, her dad, was an avid and talented bowler in his younger years. He bought Palmyra Lanes with his wife Sue in the 1980s and immediately became active in various associations and clubs, always ready to hand out a flier or welcome in a new bowler. "His first love was bowling. I was his second, and I knew that going in," Sue laughed.
The same spirit of a true family business is also found at Clearview Lanes, where the team events are held and supervised by Lisa and EJ Farwell, the former being the oldest daughter of Sharon and Henry Blough, who has proudly owned the center for more than 50 years.
Bringing in Bowlers
Tom Wizda, Jr. first took over sponsoring Dutchman bowlers from his father, Tom, Sr., in 1978. For 45 years now, Wizda, Jr. has been bringing one of the largest groups of bowlers to the tourney. “I get people who call me up all year long, checking in on the tournament group,” Wizda, Jr. said. "They save up all year for this. For many of us, it's the only time in the year we all get to see each other. Everybody works hard and has their busy lives, but we get to have this time together to party, catch up, and bowl." Teams come from as far away as North Carolina to participate; many look forward to the ritual of the drive and the camaraderie it brings. “If I had to guess, I’d say more than a quarter of the bowlers this year have been coming for over 25 years,” Sue reflected.
Full Of Bologna And Community Involvement
There’s bologna, there’s baloney, there’s sausage, and then there’s meat.” That's how Amy sums up the state of smoked meat to this uninitiated writer. Lebanon Bologna is the local specialty, primarily from Seltzer's Smokehouse Meats, which began production in 1902. till using some of those same smoking huts in the center of town today, they smoke the delicacies for three days for an old-fashioned and tasty result.
“Seltzer’s Smokehouse Meats has been a part of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Dutch culture for more than 120 years. We believe that quality can't be compromised, and that’s something Seltzer’s has always stood for,” said Michael Pellito, head of sales and marketing. "We don't add fillers, we don't add liquid smoke for flavor, and most importantly, we don't cut corners. That artisan craftsmanship is what makes Seltzer's Lebanon bologna.”
For as long as anyone involved can remember, winning a chub of Seltzer’s bologna for rolling four to six strikes in a row has always been part of the Dutchman tradition. Last year, the center gave away 1,763 12-ounce bolognas. This year, Amy has already purchased 3,000 for giveaways and to sell in the center!
“As a local company, Seltzer’s has made a strong effort to connect with and support local businesses that make up our communities,” Pellito said. “With both companies being in Palmyra and many Seltzer’s employees over the years bowling at Palmyra and in the tourney, supporting the Dutchman just made sense to us. It's been great for the Lebanon Valley folks connected to Seltzer's and the community."
With luck, one can hope that in 75 more years, the Dutchman will be celebrating the 150th version of the tourney. There will be more newcomers rolling for the first time, more family members brought in by the old guard, more tons of bologna awarded for strikes, and more Wizdas leading a caravan of bowlers up from far away.
Other center owners can learn plenty of lessons from Amy Eiserman and her partners about staging a great tournament—everything from a generous prize structure and exceptional customer service to respecting tradition while being unafraid to try new things. But above all, the Dutchman is a testament to the best advice any business can follow: treat your people like family (especially if they are family), and they'll always come back for more.