On Tuesday, February 24 the 2015 Special Olympics Bowling Competition was held at the Milford Bowling Lanes. Over 900 athletes from across the state of Delaware competed in the tournament this year that took place during the month of February. Beginning as an official Special Olympics of Delaware (SODE) sport in 1978, bowling has become the most popular sport among SODE athletes with more than 17,000 bowlers over its history.
The event opened with the Special Olympics Torch ceremony as Milford Police Officer Matt Smith led athlete Thomas Walker and unfired partner Garrett Payne as they recited the Special Olympics oath. Stephanie Mandelblatt and Sean Wills of Benjamin Banneker Elementary threw out the ceremonial first ball of the day.
As with several other SODE events, athletes are paired with unified partners from the same school to encourage students of all abilities to have fun and participate. The athlete-unified partner relationship is an ongoing partnership that is built through competition and mutual support throughout the school year. In order to prepare for this year’s SODE Bowling Tournament students had several weeks of training at the lanes.
“Bowling is one of our most popular sports in schools,” says Gary Cimaglia, SODE senior director of sports. “One of the neatest things about our athletes participating in bowling is that they can then transfer what they learn when they have opportunities to bowl with friends and family outside of the school day.”
Bowlers Matthew Sacks and Juan Delgado-Cruz from Lulu Ross Elementary School in Milford participated in Tuesday’s event and were among the athletes and unified partners that received accolades. This is the first year that the boys have been partners and they both expressed the fun they have had supporting each other throughout the school year.
“He’s a pretty good bowler,” said Matthew. “…and even when he is not doing well he does not give up and keeps trying.” Matthew said that he has tried to teach Juan how to make sure the ball continues moving straight down the lane.
“The strikes are the fun part,” said Juan. “[Matthew] is fun and we help each other. I tell him that he needs to keep the ball straight.”
The athlete-unified partner relationship is a model that allows both the athletes and their partners to learn from each other, in competition and around school. Laurie Moorman, a teacher at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in Milford, has been involved with the program for several years. Her daughters Emma is in her fifth year and her younger daughter Kylie participated for the first time this year. Moorman states that when the event began it was so small that Milford students had to travel to Dover to compete. Now the event has grown so much that Milford schools have their own competition. Moorman is pleased to see that the event and the Special Olympics Delaware organization has helped change the perception that students have about children with special needs.
“The perception truly has changed in the schools,” said Moorman. “Look around, you cannot tell who are the athletes and who are the unified partners. They are side by side competing against each other and having fun.”
The SODE Bowling Tournament was once again a huge success, filling all 16 lanes at the Milford Bowling Lanes with athletes, unified partners and families watching the excitement. Special Olympics of Delaware hopes that introducing children to the Special Olympics programs at an early age will foster the lifelong ideals of sharing, understanding and friendship.
Special Olympics Delaware provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for 3,500 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. Families that are interested in becoming more involved with SODE are encouraged to contact Special Olympics of Delaware at 302-831-4653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.