Special Olympians bowl over tourney crowd in Marietta

Photo by Doug Loyer James Scott, of Belpre, releases the bowling ball Sunday at North Hills Lanes in Marietta.

MARIETTA — There were some high fives, hugs, cheers and a lot of smiles and laughter as the Special Olympics, Area 8, held its annual bowling tournament Sunday at North Hills Lanes in Marietta.

“We have Washington, Morgan and Athens counties represented today,” said Ruth Robertson, Co-Director of Special Olympics Area 8. “We have about 90 athletes here today.”

Special Olympics contributes to the physical, social and psychological development of the athletes. Through successful experiences in sports, they gain confidence and build a positive self-image.

There are up to 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world and 4.9 million Special Olympics athletes which are aged 8 years old and up. Since 1968, Special Olympics has been spreading the message that people with intellectual disabilities can and will succeed when given the opportunity.

“There are several Special Olympics events throughout the year,” said Dennis Robertson, announcer for the event and also Track and Field Coordinator. “Besides bowling, there is also track and field, swimming, basketball, tennis and others. The athletes get a sense of accomplishment and they really look forward to meeting each other. It also gives them a purpose and something to shoot for.”

Photo by Doug Loyer Cheryl Lang encourages daughter Brandi Lang during the bowling tournament.

Robertson said the coaches are the unsung heroes in these events. They interact with the athletes and make the special event happen.

Rachelle Flesher, Washington County Head Coach and Co-Director of Special Olympics Area 8, said the event was going great and she was excited for the athletes Sunday.

The athletes are awarded medals. Some may qualify for the state Special Olympics Bowling Tournament in June.

Morgan County Special Olympics Coordinator Marlene Work said she had 14 athletes enrolled in this year’s bowling tournament.

“They look forward to this. They love the medals,” said Work. “It’s a great day for them. They love the outings, competition and to see friends that they haven’t seen in a long time and it builds confidence in them.”

Photo by Doug Loyer Team members Jose Ruble, Victoria Wojcik, Bethany Scott and Keelie Allen take a breather from bowling to have a photo taken.

Janet Wallisch, the Athens County Special Olympics Bowling Coach, said her athletes love the annual event.

“The camaraderie is wonderful and everyone has a good time.”

Washington County Bowling Coach Kevin Sprouse said it was a big day for the athletes.

“I love seeing the smiles on their faces. That’s why I do this,” he said. “It’s a feeling you just don’t get or are able to explain unless you’re there to experience it. It’s an amazing time.”

Kevin Tucker, North Hills Lanes Manager, said he enjoys having the annual Special Olympics Bowling Tournament there.

“I’ve probably done this for 15 years. They are a really good group,” said Tucker. “They always seem to enjoy themselves. It’s a good time for everyone.”

Special Olympics bowler Edwin Bonnette got the Men’s bowling competition underway by singing the National Anthem.

James Scott, of Belpre, is a Special Olympics athlete and also an athlete leader.

“We’ve been practicing every Monday and it feels great to bowl and compete,” said Scott. “I like watching my team bowl and other teams too.”

Gold Medal Winner Bethany Scott, of Marietta, was another Athlete Leader.

“I got a gold medal today and it feels awesome,” said Scott. “I’m here to cheer my team on. They are like my second family.”

Tristen Cooper, 11, of Marietta, participated for his third year. He said he gets a lot of gutter balls, spares and strikes and really enjoys bowling.

“I think it’s wonderful that special needs children and adults get an opportunity to do this,” said Tristen’s mother, April Cooper.