By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

When most people go bowling, it’s about spending time with friends and family for some social and recreational fun.

For Jan Sanders it’s a little different. A bowling ball in her hand means it is game on. It’s when her competitive spirit comes out.

“Jan is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever known,” Sherry Steadman said. “She’s been that way forever, no matter what she is doing.”

It is Sanders’ championship bowling career that is earning her induction into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on May 4.

Sanders grew up following her older brothers around. That is how she became a champion swimmer and diver. That’s how she ended up falling in love with bowling. She remembers picking up her first bowling ball at age 8. She’s still picking up the bowling ball every week to compete in at least three different leagues.

“I always wanted to do what my brothers were doing,” Sanders said. “I didn’t see why being a girl should stop me from competing with them.”

Sanders fell in love with bowling during the sport’s heyday. Bowling establishments were the social center for many communities. The sports’ popularity was so great that professional bowling became a Saturday fixture on national television.

“To be any good at bowling it takes a lot of self-discipline and determination,” Sanders said. “To bowl at a high level it takes a lot of work. I think I might have a little natural athletic talent, but I still have to work at my game all the time.”

Along the way, Sanders and Steadman became bowling partners. They were a team for 30 years until a couple of knee replacement surgeries ended Steadman’s career. Steadman was inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

“We practiced all the time and competed in tournaments everywhere,” Steadman said. “We had a lot of fun together.”

In 1988, Sanders started competing on the professional level. One of her most exciting years came in 1989. She was among 22,000 women competing for a spot on Team USA. Sanders finished first in Alabama and third at the regional level that covered seven states.

A 15th-place finish at nationals earned Sanders a trip to the U.S. Olympic Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota in July of 1990.

“The opening ceremonies were at the Metrodome in front of 42,000,” Sanders said. “I remember when all the athletes marched into the stadium with that crowd cheering for us. It was breathtaking.”

In 1994, Sanders competed in the Coca Cola World Cup. She finished first in Alabama and seventh in the national finals. Also that year she was inducted into the Decatur Bowling Hall of Fame. Sanders followed Steadman into the Alabama Women’s Bowling Association’s Hall of Fame in 1997.

Sanders hopes that a renewed interest in bowling will lead to growth for the sport that has meant so much to her. The Alabama High School Athletic Association offers state championships in bowling. So does the NCAA. There’s talk of bowling eventually becoming an Olympic sport.

“It’s a great sport and it has been a big part of my life,” Sanders said. “I love bowling.”

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