Strike! Unified bowlers hone skills, make friends, have fun
At the Wonder Bowl in New Bedford, the bowlers cheered each other on and participated in friendly rivalries during a practice on Dec. 4.
The Unified Bowling team, founded three years ago by teacher Debra August, unites students with and without intellectual disabilities in a bowling league that meets once a week during the winter sports season.
“It’s really fun because we’re not competitive at all,” said Sarah Waltz, a junior who has participated in the club for three years. Waltz said she likes that the club gives her an opportunity to hang out with friends and make new ones — she said she and her teammates will chat about bowling when they see each other in the halls of the high school.
Waltz also shared some bowling tips: If one throws too fast, he or she won’t hit any pins. Overthinking, and putting pressure on one’s self is never productive.
Her teammate and bowling partner Andrea Vachon, also a junior and a three year bowler, agreed.
“It’s a matter of going with the flow,” Vachon said. Vachon has a particular goal in mind for this season: She’d like to miss all the pins on her first bowl and get a strike with the second.
Lauren Pinto, a junior, said she likes meeting new people and making new friends through the club. She has also given herself an extra challenge: For every pin knocked down by her partner, Violet Bourque, she does one push-up. Asked if she ever wished Bourque would knock down fewer pins so she could do fewer push-ups, she said no.
“It’s great,” said Bourque, a sophomore. “It’s different from unified basketball, but I love the team energy.”
Anthony Mauley, who is new to the team, was experimenting with differently weighted bowling balls.
“I can pick this up like it’s nothing!” Mauley said. “It’s a Goldilocks ball.”
August said that many students come back to bowling each year. This year, a recent graduate of the high school is participating through Southeastern Massachusetts Educational Collaborative.
Halfway through the ten-week season, middle schoolers will join the team.
“It gives them familiar faces to look at when they come up to the high school,” said August. One student who began as an eighth grader has returned as a high schooler, and is now much more comfortable with the group.
The athletes are put into pairs and bowl together as a team all season before a pizza party, where there are awards for best average score, best game, and best streak — calculated both with and without a handicap that levels the playing field.
The high school was recently honored for its Unified Sports program by the Special Olympics, which named it a National Banner School.