Rolling Sport - Wheelchair Bowls

Wheelchair bowls is an extremely popular sport in South Africa, with many local players winning awards and medals in overseas competitions. (Picture: Gary Hansen and Theuns Fourie in the pairs final in Bloemfontein 2005)

Bowls is usually played on a large, rectangular, precisely levelled and manicured grass surface called a bowling green, divided into parallel playing strips called rinks.

The game is played by two teams of singles, pairs, trips or rinks (fours). Opponents flip a coin to see who begins an "end" by placing the mat and rolling the jack to the other end of the green to serve as a target. The players take turns to roll their bowls from the mat towards the jack.

The only rule changes that apply to wheelchair bowls are that the small front wheels must be a minimum of 2-inches wide to prevent damage to the green. Also, the wheelchair bowler must keep the big wheel nearest his bowling arm on the mat. Able-bodied bowlers must keep one foot on the mat when bowling. (Picture: Brian Jarvis at the masters 2006)

Bowling balls are made with some “bias” built into their shape which causes them to follow a slightly curved path when rolled onto the green. The object is to get the bowls as close to the jack as possible.

Bowls reaching the opposite ditch are “dead” and removed, except if it has touched the jack on its way through. These are marked with chalk and remain in play even when in the ditch.

Similarly, if the jack is knocked into the ditch it is still in play unless it goes out of bounds off the rink. If so, the jack is repositioned and the end is continued.
After each player has delivered all their bowls (four each in singles and pairs, three each in triples, and two each in fours), points called "shots" are awarded for those bowls closest to the jack. A game of bowls typically lasts 21 ends.
(Picture: Bob Campbell has played bowls for 14 years and has travelled around the world for his sport. He played in Australia three times and once in New Zealand. In 2004 he competed at the IPC games in Kuala Lumpur where he earned his Springbok colours in wheelchair bowls. Here the joint South African bowls teams (WC, Blind, Amputee and CP) were awarded the Henselite Cup for winning the most medals in Kuala Lumpur.)

Scoring systems vary, with wins going to the first team to reach a specific number of points e.g. 21, or to the highest scorer after 21 ends. Some competitions use a "set" scoring system, with the first team to seven points awarded a set in a best-of-five-set match. (Picture: Piet Grove is the President of Bowls for Physically Disabled. He is an above-knee amputee.)

Scoring in a professional match uses sets. Each set consists of 7 ends (9 ends in a final). The player with the most shots at the end of a set is awarded the set. Two sets are played. If the score is one set each, then three tie-breaker ends are played to determine a winner.

Bias is now produced entirely by the shape of the bowl. Regulations determine the minimum bias allowed and the bowl diameter (11.6 to 13.1 cm). Bowls were originally made from lignum vitae, a dense wood, but are now more typically made of a hard plastic composite material.

A "drive" shot involves bowling with force to knock either the jack or a specific bowl out of play. A drive has virtually no noticeable curve on the shot. Some shots have only enough speed to displace the jack or disturb opposition bowls without killing the end. A "block" shot is intentionally placed short to block drive shots or draw shots. (Picture: Antoinette Duncan-Brown has competed overseas and now plays club bowls with Bob Campbell.)


(Picture: During the last national champs in 2007 in Kimberley: From left to right, Deon van der Vyver (Border), Piet Grove (Griquas), Glyn Thompson (Border and wheelchair mens champion for 2007); and Frank Gadd (Kwazulu Natal). In the background is Ferdie Sterrenberg (Griquas).)


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