Where Everyone Is Welcome
It was the late 1960s, and racial segregation, though illegal, had not disappeared in Hillsborough County.
“Hey, Bill, we’ve got a problem tomorrow night. A big problem.”
A local union representative was talking to Bill Morris, then CEO of Pin Chasers (at that time called Regal Lanes) on Armenia Avenue in Tampa. The union rep said that a black person had signed up to bowl the next night, and he had no choice but to let him bowl with the union’s league.
“I don’t see a problem,” said Bill. “He’s just as welcome as anyone else. He’ll be treated with the same excellence as every other person who walks in the door.”
The league came in and bowled without incident.
“People just want to have a good time,” recalled Bill. “Were there racially biased people then? Yeah. Are there today? Yeah. I’d tell them, ‘You’ve got a choice. You can bowl here, or you can go to Florida Lanes (now closed) and bowl.’ Some people would say that was arrogance. I say, no, that’s commitment. That was relevant to who I am and the type of business I want to run.”
In 1968, a group of people from Tampa’s African-American community came to talk with Bill Morris about a home for their own league, the Hitters and Missers. And then they asked for Saturday nights at seven o’clock.
“Absolutely!” he said.
His friends and industry peers went into panic mode, saying he was going to ruin his business. They predicted that other bowlers would stop coming in on Saturdays – his most profitable night.
Those 18 bowlers grew to 168, and in 2018, 50 years later, they still have nearly 20 teams of four, including one original member, Lonnie Williams.
“Blacks weren’t wanted in a lot of places,” Mr. Williams said, “so for a white establishment to really welcome us and say, ‘Hey, come on in!’ – I can’t forget that.”
Bill Morris remembers when, in the early 1980s, businessmen from Tampa’s gay community asked about creating a bowling league at Pin Chasers (then called Regal Lanes). Other centers had turned them down. Regal was their last hope, but since Bill was a known Christian, they assumed he wouldn’t accept them, either.
Bill’s first thought was that this could “create chaos at every level of my life, personal- and business-wise.”
Still, he sat down with them and said, “I really don’t care whether you’re homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or any-other-sexual I’m not familiar with. We have an extremely strong code of conduct and code of ethics in this building. And if you adhere to those codes, like everyone else that visits this place, you’ll be more than welcome to bowl any time.”
The first week the Monday Mixed Classic League (LGBTQ) came to bowl, Bill had to entice the staff with double-time pay because they were reluctant to work with them. The second week, staff members begged to take the shift, because “those are really nice people — and they tip great!”
In time, the Monday Mixed Classic League became the largest bowling league not only at Pin Chasers but in the entire city of Tampa. They continue to bowl today (in 2019) with about 100 members.
The Pin Chasers’ story of inclusion went so far as to include nudist bowling as well.
Bill Morris got a call from Paradise Lakes Resort about establishing a nude league. He hesitated but told them they could bowl if they 1) wore socks and bowling shoes and 2) brought their own towels to sit on. He scheduled them at 9:30 p.m. Sundays. Pin Chasers closed at 9 o’clock, giving staff time to paper the windows before the nudists arrived.
Today, in 2019, although Bill Morris is retired, the Pin Chasers culture of inclusion, respect for every person, and commitment to excellence in customer service continue. Bill instilled it in his children, who now run the business. As always, “Our family makes sure your family has a great time. We even have a money-back guarantee. If you don’t have fun, it’s on us.”
Reserve your lane today at one of Pin Chasers’ three locations! Each center features free shoe rentals (and free socks), our Ten Pin Grill with freshly made food all day, a full-service bar, GameZone arcades, tournaments, cyber and late-night bowling, leagues for children and adults and free Learn-to-Bowl classes.
“One of the things Pin Chasers’ culture stands for is we have always been colorblind and politically neutral, choosing always to see everyone as a person created in the image of God and deserving to always be treated with love and respect.”– Bill Morris