Powell, a photo and film researcher who grew up near Salem and now lives in Washington, D.C., says road bowling can be "a real fun roll-and-stroll for families." The tone was "extremely serious," though, when teams from Boston, New York and North Carolina turned out in early August for the North American Region Finals at Coopers Rock State Forest.
Winners in some classes advance to the All-Ireland finals, or world championships, this September.
Unlike the Boston club, whose members live within an hour of each other and can play twice a week, the West Virginia players are far-flung and have far less time to play together and practice.
"Road bowling really requires a combination of coordination and speed," Powell says. "If you're beautifully accurate but you don't have the speed, you're not going to be able to excel. If you're really strong and fast, and you don't have the accuracy, you're going to be in the ditch too quickly."
Some throws are as long as 300 yards, a distance determined by where the bowl comes to rest, not where it leaves the road -- and it almost always leaves the road.
In West Virginia, the longest shot on record is a 422-yard roll at the 2001 Irish Spring Festival.
The state association launched a competitive-singles league last year, and interest has been growing among spectators and players. The next competition is Aug. 18 at the Doddridge County Fair in West Union, and events are scheduled through Nov. 4, when the season wraps up at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, Lewis County.
"Anyone who lives in the state of West Virginia can get to one of our events in about an hour," Powell says. The biggest are the Irish Spring Festival in March and an October tournament at Holly River State Park.
Carl George of Buckhannon says road bowling is harder than it looks, but anyone can do it.
"It's a lot of fun, a lot of exercise, and it doesn't cost much," he says. "It's really a good time."