To keep children out of mischief this summer, Raymond's Bowl & Entertainment Center is letting them bowl for free.
Those at the Johnsburg business say the initiative thrived last summer when children bowled about 9,000 free games. In doing so, families endorsed the center's "Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Bowling" campaign.
Along with bowling, those involved take part in periodic law enforcement safety and awareness presentations and become eligible for prize drawings.
Those behind the program hope they also develop an appreciation of and camaraderie with the area's police officers.
"I think it's the greatest thing that was ever invented," Owner Ray Kuna said of the campaign.
He and his sons, Joe and Steve, are the third generation of Kunas in the bowling business, dating to the 1950s when Ray's father first built a center in McHenry. Ray worked alongside his father before opening his own 12-lane center in Johnsburg in 1977.
Built in 2005, the Raymond's Bowl & Entertainment Center of today reflects the changing times, with 16 traditional lanes and eight boutique style lanes in a private area with large video screens and couches.
The family's connection to the community has grown along with the business. Yet, bowling and its benefits haven't changed, they say.
Whether at an old-time facility or a state-of-the-art center, bowling is more than a sport, they say.
It's a way to keep families together, active, and healthy, said Walter Pekovitch, center manager, who spearheads the "Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Bowling" campaign.
The business works with schools and police departments throughout the area to promote the campaign, distributing information to at least 30 schools before the end of the school year.
Students are given "Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Bowling" cards that entitle them to one free game of bowling, including shoes, every day during the summer. After one free game, families can bowl alongside the students for half-price, $1.50 a game.
"It gives kids something to do to keep them out of trouble, off the streets and occupied," Pekovitch said. "It's very affordable for the entire family."
Nine-year-old Taiski Ryan of Spring Grove took advantage of the program last summer, having never really bowled before. He now sees himself as "pretty good," with a high score of 154.
"I think it's great because you get a very bad score, you can always go again," he said. "Free is everyone's favorite price."
His mother, Yuka, said Taiski was the first to sign up again this summer.
The goal is not only to draw in families during a sometimes slow summer season, when outdoor activities become more appealing, but also to develop a rapport with police departments, Pekovitch said.
Departments are invited in throughout the summer to do vehicle demonstrations and fingerprint, bike safety, internet safety and K9 presentations. At the end of the summer, the business hosts a party and "Bowl with a Cop" day.
Some who've participated have gone on to become regular bowlers, Pekovitch said. Those involved can join leagues and enjoy bowling for a lifetime, he said.
"It gives people who normally don't go bowling a reason to try bowling," Pekovitch said. "We had a lot of kids who never bowled before try it last year. A certain amount of kids become bowlers, and that's what's good for us."