For Ray, bowls is a walk in the park

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In tennis, it seems that players ‘crash out’ of tournaments – listen to Andrew Saville next time he’s reporting the tennis. They don’t ‘lose’. They aren’t ‘knocked out’, ‘defeated’, ‘beaten’, ‘vanquished’, ‘conquered’ or ‘bested’. They ‘crash out’.

In bowls, a loss is a gracious thing. There’s no ‘crashing out’. There’s a reflective acknowledgement of the winners’ superiority on the day, There’s handshakes and backpats. There’s no bowls abuse or umpire abuse (Nick Kyrgios would hate bowls). Losing in bowls is like losing to your grandkids in cards – everyone’s still happy.

So even when the Wanganui team of Ray Park, Alan Dickson, Gavin Scrivener, Bruce Winterburn, Kevin Coombe, Tony McRae and Ray Wilson ‘crashed out’ of the National Intercentre Tournament in Auckland recently,it was all pretty c’est la vie. They knew that bowls is about winning and losing.

And no one in the team is more used to winning and losing than Skip Ray Park. Ray’s been playing bowls for over 40 years. “I got hooked by a friend who took me along to the Services Bowling Club (now Laird Park) in Whanganui for a roll-up,” recalls Ray. “I was there for 7 years before three younger bowlers asked me to join them at the Wanganui Bowling Club.”

With Ray, the 3 young bowlers Ian Brown, John Walker and Tony Ander, only had 13 years bowls experience between them. But they soon gained a reputation in Whanganui bowling circles for their attacking play.

It was the start of a new era of bowls success for Ray. “I had a lot of fabulous wins over the years,” says Ray, “but none have been more sweeter than with my son Clint, who is an exceptional bowls player.”

Ray has racked up 92 Club titles. At the age of 70, Ray has already ‘shot his age’ in Club titles. He’s almost done the same with Centre titles – he’s accumulated 65, 30 of them playing with Clint. Unfortunately, his wife, Kathy and daughter, Tanya don’t play bowls.

At the national level, Ray’s been in many winning teams. “Back in 1989 I was picked for the New Zealand Emerging Players to tour the South Island,” remembers Ray. “I was young, but the team included a much younger Gary Lawson.”

Ray was in the team that won the National Interclub in Hamilton in 1999, in the team that won the Kapiti Coast Superbowls in 2001, and the combined Taranaki/Wanganui team that won the New Zealand Super 8 title in 2000. Ray was in the Pairs and Fours teams that won the New Zealand Pathway. In 2007/2008. With his son Clint, Craig Gush and Barry Gush, Ray won the Taranaki Fours in 2005.

Ray went on to win the New Zealand Chartered Clubs Tournament in Taranaki in 2006 with another team.

“I’ve also had some memorable losses,” says Ray. “I was beaten in the final of the Champion of Champions in Blenheim in 1992 by Geoff Hawken … and beaten in the National Fours Final in Christchurch in 2003 by Peter Sain … and beaten in the National Pairs Quarter-finals in Wellington in 1998, in the Semi-finals in Wellington in 1987 and again in the Semi-finals in New Plymouth in 2016.”

Not surprisingly, everyone on the bowling green now knows Ray Park. “I’ve loved every moment of the sport,” says Ray, “It’s taken me from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, and I’ve made many good friends and had great times along the way.”

Also unsurprisingly, everyone in Whanganui – not just bowlers – knows him too. Ray was a teacher at Keith Street Primary School for 34 years. “It’s pretty hard for me to go down the street without someone yelling out ‘Hi Mr Park’!”

After his wife Kathy’s recent retirement, Ray’s brought his own retirement to finality. He’s gone from full-time teacher to part-time Coach at the Wanganui Bowling Club to part-time Greenkeeper at the club to full-time home gardener, challenging bowler and budding traveller.

See you on the greens, Ray.

-Rob Davis