At first glance it seems to be a joke. The bowling ball rolls down the left side of the lane, hanging over the lip of the last board like a Mack Sennett jalopy about to fall off a cliff, a sure gutter job. But then, as if bewitched, the ball hooks sharply to the right, locks in on the 1-2 pocket and down go the pins. Crash! A minute later Dotty Fothergill does it again—and sometimes again and again. And along with knocking down pins, she has been known to knock down a few male reputations. Only 5'1" tall, Dotty Fothergill has become one of the most powerful forces in competitive bowling.
This may not be the Dotty Fothergill you recognize if you hang around the beaches of New England, where she is a sort of superdriver of the dune-buggy set. Or if you were part of the sandlot football bunch a few years ago in North Attleboro, Mass., where Dotty used to tie on the shoulder pads and scrimmage just like one of the guys. But it's the same young lady—she is just expanding her horizons.
Dotty can be totally feminine, a blue-eyed, brown-haired 25-year-old in high heels and mod dresses. But high heels don't work very well where she now spends most of her time. Four years ago she became a professional bowler, and twice since then she has been Woman Bowler of the Year. She is now singlehandedly storming that male bastion known as the Professional Bowlers Association, going at it the same way she goes at everything—headfirst.
Dotty admits that her purpose in seeking membership in the all-male PBA is to make off with some of its prize money. "They have about 40 events on their tour each year," she says. "The women had just eight last year. We went from last Thanksgiving until last May without a tournament. That's no way to make money. And most small events during the off season exclude the top women bowlers because we scare off the men."
In March 1970 Dotty applied for membership in the PBA. In September she got a letter saying her application had been rejected "for the time being."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked, and proceeded to sue the PBA for discrimination, demanding $2.5 million in damages.
The PBA reaction was uncharacteristically quick. In November, while on a bowling tour in Japan, Dotty got a phone call from her mother back in North Attleboro. The PBA was countersuing for $3 million, her mother said, claiming Dotty had caused it undue hardship and embarrassment.
Last January she went to PBA headquarters in Akron to give a deposition. "I thought it would be just a few questions," she recalls, "but they kept at me for eight hours." Since then the legal action has cooled down considerably, and chances are good for a settlement.
Dotty insists that her case is not an adjunct of Women's Lib, but she does charge that the only reason the PBA turned her down is because she's a woman. "They claim it isn't so, but at a tournament last year I got one of the six guest invitations," she says. "All the other guests were men. They were all approved, but I wasn't." Dotty has not made herself entirely popular with the other lady pro bowlers by suing the PBA. Some male bowlers have decided that if she is allowed into the PBA they will begin entering some women's events, and Dotty's female cohorts are understandably apprehensive at this prospect.
On the other hand, Dotty would probably cash in on the PBA circuit, even if she never won a single event, for she has already defeated some of the finest male bowlers mano-a-mano. In December 1968, she won two of three games against the 1964 Bowler of the Year, Billy Hardwick, winning the series 631 pins to 555. Three months later she took on Jim Stefanich, winner of a record $67,375 in 1968 and the male bowler of that year. She swept him in three straight.