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Tribute to bowls legend Mary Price

The bowling fraternity is shocked and saddened to learn of the death of England bowls legend Mary Price.
The team at Bowls International join bowlers around the world in extending their condolences to Mary’s husband Peter and their family.

Mary actually features in our current issue having won the EIBA Over 60 pairs with Desborough teammate Lorraine Woodley (pictured).
We pay tribute to Mary revisiting a story to celebrate her 50th anniversary of bowling in 2019.

How and when did you first get into playing bowls?
It was just after we got married in 1969. My husband Peter had been playing since he was 15. I was teaching full-time and was fed-up being at home on my own as Peter was out playing all the time so I went down to the club and that was the start of it.

I took early retirement from teaching after 15 years as womenโ€™s bowls in those days was played in the afternoons and if you wanted to get on in the sport you had to make yourself available. I taught myself engraving and set-up a business supplying and engraving bowls trophies to fit it in around bowls.

In 1995, Peter and I opened a bowls shop in Burnham, Rink Bowls Equipment, after operating from home for around seven years. We did roadshows all over the place so travelled quite a bit before we sold the business on in 2005.

When were you first capped for England?
Outdoors it was 1984 and the series was held in Leamington Spa. I was third to Jean Valls and played with her for three years before I was picked to skip my own rink. I played skip for 20 years and have over 70 caps. Indoors, my first cap was in Hartlepool in 1982 and I played in the indoor team for 19 years with 56 caps.

What was your proudest moment of your international bowling career?
Thatโ€™s very very difficult, there have been so many so itโ€™s hard to single one out, but if I did have to choose one, it would have to be the World Bowls Championships in Leamington Spa in 2004. I was team manager and the atmosphere was buzzing leading the team onto the green for the opening ceremony.

The lowest point came in 1988 at World Bowls in New Zealand, we were playing off for a gold medal in the fours against Australia and we thought we had it. We were five up going into the last end. I was third to Barbara Fuller. We dropped a five on that last end and had to have an extra end.

We lost the toss, the greens were very quick and the Aussies threw a minimum length jack and took the extra end and the gold. We nearly had the gold round our necks, but it was gone in a flash. It was one of those heartbreaking โ€˜if onlyโ€™ ends which has haunted me ever since.

Where and when was your first overseas trip for England?
That was in fact my first trip. It was to Henderson, New Zealand, and I came back with two medals, the silver in that fateful fours match and a bronze in the pairs which I skipped with Wendy Line.

Back in the day, we didnโ€™t have the same preparation as teams have now. We would probably have had a weekend practice, but that would have been the extent of it.

Have you always played with the same set of bowls?
I started off with a set of Lignum Vitae and did quite well with them. I then played with Dunlop bowls made of rubber. I had some huge successes with them, including the national indoor singles in 1991, the World Indoor singles and the UK indoor singles.

But the nature of the rubber meant they had a tendency to wear and they didnโ€™t run true as a nylon content in carpet and an element of sand outdoors affected them, so I then started playing with Drakes Pride Professional which I use now.

What do you miss most about playing for England internationally?
Locking horns with people Iโ€™ve met over the years from around the world and having that friendly rivalry with them on the green and the camaraderie and friendship off it.

Did anyone ever give you words of advice that you took heed of and what were those words?
The words of advice which have stuck with me were from Mavis Steele who when I was chatting to once told me, now you are starting to win things, well done, but remember always be pleasant as when you are going up the ladder, you will meet the same people coming back down.

How has the game of bowls changed since you started playing?
Itโ€™s changed immensely. The uniform is one of the vast changes; it used to be so strict it was unbearable sometimes. Also, far more young players are doing well and are consistent.

There is also so much more on offer competition-wise. We didnโ€™t used to have Under 25 or mother and daughter competitions, but they now encourage younger people to play. Thereโ€™s also music now in the background at indoor competitions. It doesnโ€™t bother me, it gives an atmosphere, but Iโ€™m sure it could affect some people.

What do you like most about the game of bowls?
There is so much โ€“ the social side, friendships, competition. Itโ€™s a game that anybody can play. The beauty of it is that you can excel at whatever level you choose to play.

My biggest dislike is when Iโ€™m bowling and it looks like my bowl is going to do damage in the head unintentionally and the opposition is urging my bowl to do so.

And you are involved with coaching and umpiring too?
I have been umpiring since 1980 and am kept very busy with the role, not least at Leamington Spa for the national finals. I am also a coach at club and county level. I enjoy the tactical and technical side of coaching in team play.

While I was still a member of the outdoor international team, I managed the EWBAโ€™s special events โ€“ European Championships, Atlantic Championships, World Bowls, Commonwealth Games and Champion of Champions for a few years before I actually retired from playing. One year was under the EWBA and the other five were under Bowls England.

What did you enjoy most in your managerโ€™s role?
I enjoyed working with the smaller elite groups more as it was easier to relate to the players in a more intimate group. It was easier to get to grips with everyoneโ€™s needs and understand the players better.

Delhi was our most successful Commonwealth Games when we medaled in all but one discipline. Natalie Melmore (now Chestney) won gold in the singles, Ellen Falkner and Amy Gowshall (now Pharaoh) gold in the pairs, and Jamie-Lea Winch, Sandy Hazell and Sian Gordon (now Honnor) bronze in the triples.

Whatโ€™s your advice to anyone thinking of taking up the sport?
First of all, make sure you get coached properly. So many people go down with a friend and learn bad habits straight away which are difficult to get out of. It all depends what you want out of bowls, but whatever level you want to play at, you need to focus and put the hours of practice in.

What would you like to see in the future for the sport of bowls?
Sincerely more people taking up the sport as itโ€™s almost dying on its feet. Club memberships are dropping.

Itโ€™s an easy sport to get into and there is something for everyone. The game is dwindling all over the world. We need to encourage more people to take up the sport as once you do we all know how we become hooked. Itโ€™s like a drug, you canโ€™t put it down!