GroupWorks Member Spotlight: Rhonda Swaim

Growing up, Rhonda Swaim and her family hopscotched from state to state, and scattered in the process. Today, she’s grown roots aplenty, thanks to her husband, children, grandchildren — and bowling.

“Bowling gave me a connection. It made me feel a part of something, ” says Swaim, the longtime manager of GroupWorks’ own Huntsville USBC, a local association, based in Huntsville, Alabama, of the 1.4 million-member United States Bowling Congress. “I was included.”

Swaim has been more than included, actually. She’s been inducted (into the Alabama USBC Hall of Fame), and she’s been honored (with the USBC’s Helen Baker Award for outstanding service).

“I tell my husband, see what you did,” Swaim laughs.

It was at her husband’s suggestion that Swaim took up bowling in the late 1980s. She was 26, and she and her husband, then a member of the U.S. Army, were in Germany, where he was stationed. They lived on a base. They didn’t have a car. Entertainment options were limited. One day, her husband suggested they go bowling.

“And that was the first time I’d ever picked up a bowling ball,” she says.

Swaim liked it — the sport, the camaraderie, the fact that she didn’t have to be a perfect-game throwing superstar to have fun.

“It is something you can do no matter what,” Swaim says. “No matter what your age, or your capabilities.”

A few years later, in 1991, Swaim and her young family moved back to the states, and to Alabama, where her husband’s family lived. The local Huntsville bowling association, which would become known as Huntsville USBC in 2005 when a merger of the leading national bowling organizations formed the USBC, became a focal point of their lives: They and their children bowled in leagues and on lanes coordinated by the Huntsville association. Nearly 30 years on, they still do, Swaim’s now-grown children and some her grandchildren, included. The bowling community is their community.

“It’s a close-knit family — supportive,” Swaim says of Huntsville USBC. “If somebody gets sick, if you need anything, if you need support, everybody’s there.”

Swaim herself is a main part of the association’s support system. She started off volunteering and coaching, became a member of the board, and finally accepted the staff position of association manager.

As manager of the 1,600-member group, one of the USBC’s more than 45,000 certified leagues nationwide, Swaim says, “I do everything.”

She manages funds, runs tournaments, keeps track of the paperwork, scores and averages. “My job description is about 12 pages long,” Swaim says. “If anything is going on, I have my hands in it. I’m on call, every day.”

Huntsville USBC moved to the GroupWorks platform in August 2018, and that’s helped streamline parts of Swaim’s job, she says. “It’s very, very user-friendly. It’s clean, which is very important. because the bowlers don’t want to receive a bunch of junk [emails],” she says. “Also, I can download my tournament entry forms to it very easily.”

Even as Swaim has taken on administrative responsibilities, she’s never lost touch with the bowling ball itself.

“I’ve got back injuries, arm injuries, vision issues, but I’m out there every week, even now,” Swaim says.

Her vision issues in particular have been a challenge: “When I look out on the lanes, I get a blurry blob,” she says. “People who have bowled with me each week, they ask: How did you get that strike? How did you get that spare?” (One of her secrets: She can detect the color on the pins. Does it give her all the info she needs? No, not necessarily. “But I’m pretty close,” she says.)

As health-related problems have cropped up, Swaim’s average has dipped — “and that’s OK.” At her peak, Swaim was not an elite bowler. She knows the honors that have come her way in recent years were not earned because of her backspin.

“I’ve worked a lot, and my accomplishments have paid off, my energy has paid off,” Swaim says.

Of all her honors, Swaim says the biggest thrill was the Helen Baker Award, which has been presented annually by the USBC since 2006.

“To get that call was numbing. Most Helen Baker Award recipients are from much larger associations,” says Swaim, who took the honor in 2016. “I was in shock. It was a good thing my husband was driving that night.”

To someone who was looking for a little more family, Swaim found it and then some with bowling and bowling associations.

“The number of friendships you make is overwhelming,” Swaim says.

There are other benefits, too, to joining a USBC league: “You’re guaranteed your lanes every week,” Swaim says, with a laugh. “There’s no waitlist.”