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Who needs football when you have bowling?

The Retirees Bowling League held its Soup ’n’ Bowl party Thursday at Legion Lanes in Hamburg. It was at least the 10th time the senior bowling league met on the Thursday before Super Bowl Sunday to loosely mark the big game, according to organizer Connie Simoneit.

At age 71, Simoneit is social director for this hardy group of bowlers who offer each other encouragement in between the laughs and competition of league bowling.

And forget about wings and pizza. This gray gang of 50 strong lunched on homemade soup of all kinds, simmering in an army of crock pots plugged in and lined up on a shelf adjacent to the lanes.

Rumor has it they eat more than they bowl. If their team names are any indication – Recycled Teens, Eight Balls, Five Alive, Hell on Wheels, Old Fools and Monkeys (currently in first place) – these characters are as colorful as the balls they propel down the lanes.

When bowlers Marci Mends, 68, and Robert Paulino, 70, first started dating a few years ago, they conducted a long-distance relationship – Mends in Middlebury, Vt., a widow after 32 years of marriage, and Paulino in Hamburg, a widower who had been married 46 years.

“We used to talk on the phone every day from 8 o’clock at night until 4 in the morning,” recalled Mends, who at the time was a crime scene investigator for the Vermont State Police.

“And then she would get up and go to work at 5,” Paulino added. “I’d go back to bed. I was retired. People would ask what we talked about. Everything. Anything. How else do you get to know somebody?”

The telephone courtship lasted three months.

“And then I went up there and kidnapped her and brought her back to Western New York,” Paulino said. We were engaged for Christmas 2012.”

Have they set a date?

“No, we don’t have a date,” said Paulino who smiled before adding: “But at age 70, you don’t need a date.”

Finding companionship through bowling leagues eases loneliness in the elderly and others who live alone, according to the United States Bowling Congress. In 2012, 20 percent of all bowlers – 14.2 million – were 55 and older, according to the bowling organization.

Every St. Patrick’s Day, league members go for corned beef and cabbage at a Lakeview banquet hall. On Valentine’s Day they will be greeted at the lanes with two large tubs of ice cream and all the fixings to make sundaes and banana splits.

“We have a picnic at my house during the summer because I live on the water,” said Simoneit, who for 30 years worked behind the counter at Legion Lanes planning bowling parties for church groups, youth recreation leagues and handicapped bowlers.

Mary Dinan, 64, of Boston, was still celebrating the 6-7-10 split she made on Monday.

In the soup line, meanwhile, cheesy cauliflower broccoli was out, and Dorothy Tocin, 84, was scooping up some stuffed banana pepper soup before returning to her team – Dot’s Boys – on lane one.

“Dot is a little white-haired lady and she’s surrounded by these big guys. Every year for the Christmas banquet, we buy them a box of Dots candy,” explained Simoneit, whose photo in the South Park High School yearbook carried the description “Busy Girl.”

Joining Tocin on Dot’s Boys were: Robert Kenefic, 69, a Bronx native and Verizon retiree; Fredrich Klepp, 80, a Yugoslavia native who retired after 33 years on the production line at the Ford Stamping Plant; and Joseph Bocchiaro, 79, who worked as a supervisor at Bethlehem Steel for 31 years. Bocchiaro’s oxygen tank was stationed nearby for use when he exerted himself, explained Klepp.

One thing about senior bowlers. Not one used medical problems as an excuse for poor performance. Klepp blamed his bowling ball for his first game score of 134 while reaching for his Green Rhino.

“It works better on recently oil lanes,” Klepp explained.

Tocin held her own among the guys. The woman, barely 5 feet tall, pointed to the “Swear Jar” as one reason.

“If they say naughty words, they have to put a dollar in the jar,” she said.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com