Pioneer Special Olympics bowling group connects ‘unified buddies’ with student athletes

  • Mackinley Roman, 5, bowls with Pioneer Valley Regional School student Annie Johnson during the Special Olympics bowling program Thursday afternoon at the French King Bowling Center in Erving. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Dylan Snow, 11, center, sends bowling balls down a ramp with the assistance of Pioneer Valley Regional School students Julianna Ackerman, left, and Molly Johnson during the Special Olympics bowling program Thursday afternoon at the French King Bowling Center in Erving. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Andrew Bond, 7, from left, his brother William Bond, 5, Alexis Pratt, Mackinley Roman, 5, and Annie Johnson participate in the Special Olympics bowling program Thursday afternoon at the French King Bowling Center in Erving. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School students Alexis Pratt and Jane Potee, with McKinley Roman, a Northfield Elementary School student (center), participate in the Special Olympics bowling program at the French King Bowling Center on Thursday. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School students Skyler Cohen and Al Unaitis, with Bernardston Elementary School student Kaia Ladner (center), participate in the Special Olympics bowling program at the French King Bowling Center on Thursday. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

  • Bernardston Elementary School students and Special Olympics athletes Dylan Snow, 11, and Kirsten Ladner, 11, with Pioneer Valley Regional School students Madi Sulda, Julianna Ackerman, Kassidy DiGeorge and Annie Johnson. Staff Photo/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 2/10/2020 10:20:40 PM

ERVING — The sound of children’s laughter blended with the crashing and rattling of bowling pins at the French King Bowling alley Thursday during another week of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District’s Special Olympics bowling season.

The annual program is organized by Sue Scott, the physical education teacher at Pioneer Valley Regional School and Bernardston Elementary School.

“It gives kids a chance to be kids, and play with their friends in an inclusive way,” Scott said.

The Special Olympics bowling program has grown since its founding in January 2017, and now has roughly 15 high school and middle school students volunteering as “unified buddies” with the 10 Special Olympics athletes. For eight weeks, in January and February, students head to the French King Bowling alley each Thursday.

Scott said the program runs smoothly and is looked forward to every week by the students involved. Many of the bowlers have participated since its founding, including Pioneer senior Ella Potee who said the weekly event is a fun way to connect with the student athletes. Each week the buddy pairs rotate to socialize with, and compete against, different friends.

Madi Sulda, a junior at Pioneer, said it’s nice to help the younger kids, noting that she also volunteered with the Turkey Trot in November. Madi was partnered with Dylan Snow, 11, a Bernardston Elementary fifth-grader and Special Olympics athlete.

After rolling a spare to win the game in his lane, Dylan, who uses a wheelchair, said he has been playing with the Pioneer Special Olympics bowling group since its inception. He and Bernardston Elementary classmate Kirsten Ladner, 11, who also uses a wheelchair, take adaptive physical education classes with Scott.

“We get to play cool games in class,” Dylan said. “We play ... well, it’s like basketball but with hula hoops hanging down.”

The design of that game, he said, makes it easier for students to score by throwing the ball through the hoops as it can be difficult for the young athletes to reach the height of a basketball hoop. Similarly, bowling, Scott said, is a sport that nearly everyone can play, no matter their skill level or physical disability.

“Some students might use a wheelchair or have other disabilities, but bowling puts everyone on a level playing field,” she said. “Everyone is working with or playing together.”

She said it’s nice to see students sharing stories about their bowling experiences when they’re back in school. Through teaching, she noticed students love to come in and talk about their soccer match or other sports, but she recognized students with certain physical disabilities may not have similar experiences to share. Scott said she wants students in her adaptive physical education class to experience the same excitement of friendly competition through athletic events.

There are only a few weeks left for this year’s bowling program, which is funded through the Massachusetts Special Olympics. Scott said the young athletes also get a T-shirt as part of the bowling program, featuring the Olympic rings to represent the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Scott has also started a skill-based program during the school day for students with specific disabilities. Each task is oriented on the individual student and his or her personal goals. She said this program has grown significantly, and actually involves more young athletes than the bowling program.

“We need to be able to acknowledge the different strengths we all have,” she said.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.




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