Thursday, November 30, 2000

Quaint tradition crashes, burns


Ky. says using teen pin setters violates state law

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        Surely the government has better things to do than ruin a 50-year tradition in a small town.

        Within days of my column about the antique bowling lanes in Augusta, Ky, state inspectors were on the case. The reason: I had praised the work ethic of two boys, 15 and 13, who were employed there as pin setters.

        The boys are too young to work where liquor is served, state officials said. They slapped the tiny business with a $2,000 fine this month. Dustin Teagarden and Matthew Sandlin lost their jobs. And the owners of the bar, called Someplace Else, said goodbye to a town tradition.

[photo] Dustin Teegarden, 15, left, and Matthew Sandlin, 13, lost their jobs as pin setters after the state fined the owners of Someplace Else for labor violations.
(Enquirer file photo)
| ZOOM |
        What a crock. With all the whining about workloads, state employees should have their hands full investigating complaints. Instead, they have to make work for themselves by reading a nice story and using it to stomp on a two-lane bowling alley in a town of 1,300.
       

Rite of adolescence

        “It just kind of shocked everyone around here, 'cause it's just been school kids who've done it as long as I can remember,” says Dustin's mother, Mary Teagarden.

        Someplace Else ended up in the paper because I was amazed, when I stopped by one night, to discover manually operated lanes. When each frame is over, the boys scramble to put the pins in a simple, metal hopper and lower it to the lane. This may be the only manual system in the country that's still in regular operation, experts told me.

        The boys worked only on league nights. That amounted to about 11 hours a week.

        Over the years, dozens of youngsters have scratched their names on the walls behind the lanes. Half the town, it seems, started out as pin setters.

        “My big brother and all his friends set pins there when they were 12,” says Jim Urban, 37, a co-owner of Someplace Else. “It was a big deal for us — we couldn't wait for the big kids to get tired of setting pins so we could go in and set them.”
       

Enforcing the law
        Mr. Urban is hoping he'll be allowed to pay the $2,000 fine in installments.

        “I'm thinking, "Geez, we can't afford this,'” he says.

        The penalty was imposed by the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. According to the paperwork, Someplace Else unlawfully employed a minor under 14, employed a 14- to 16-year-old later than 7 p.m. and permitted him to be in a business serving liquor.

        Bowling nights, however, Someplace Else feels more like a living room than a bar.

        Mrs. Teagarden never worried about her son. She knows all the bowlers, and the bartender is a relative.

        “I just figure if you can get a child at 15 to go out and earn some money because they want to do it, you know you've done something right in raising them,” Mrs. Teagarden says.

        Nevertheless, Kentucky and federal law restrict the employment of juveniles. Newspaper stories and inquiries from reporters are one way the department finds cases, says Eddie Jacobs, a spokesman for the cabinet.

        “To totally ignore that and then have an accident occur or a tragedy occur — that's why we have to react whenever there might be a violation of the law,” he says.

        The person who started this investigation was just doing his job, Mr. Jacobs says.

        I'm thinking: Yeah, but I'll bet his name is Scrooge.

       Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at 859-578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.

       



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