Pioneer Special Olympics bowling group creates connections through fun

  • Corey Doran, 10, of Bernardston is all business as he bowls at the French King Bowling Center on Feb. 2. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Quintin Stacy, 11, of Northfield and his unified partner, Pioneer Valley Regional School student Hanna Buedinger. Recorder Staff/Paul FranZ

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School students Sydney Unaitis and Shelby Kosterman help 8-year-old Kirsten Ladner of Bernardston bowl with a launching ramp at the French King Bowling Center on Feb. 2. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School student Hanna Buedinger, left, and physical education teacher Sue Scott, right, help Quintin Stacy, 11, of Northfield, bowl at the French King Bowling Center on Feb. 2. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School students Allyson Unaitis and Lily Walker help 7-year-old Kaia Ladner bowl with a launching ramp at the French King Bowling Center on Feb. 2. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 2/10/2017 10:14:06 PM

ERVING — Hand in hand, 11-year-old Quintin Stacy and his physical education teacher Sue Scott walked up to the lane, carrying a small black-and-white bowling ball.

Glancing at the white pins with an eager smile, and with some help from Scott, Stacy let the ball roll and it whirred down the wooden floor.

For the past five weeks, bowling at the French King Bowling Center every Thursday has been something Stacy and four other special needs children have looked forward to.

According to Scott, a physical education teacher at Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, Warwick Community School and Bernardston Elementary School, the weekly bowling sessions promise fun while allowing special needs children within the Pioneer Valley Regional School District to connect with other students. Scott started the bowling sessions this year as part of the district’s Special Olympics program, which she also oversees.

“I just have a passion for making sure all students have every opportunity to do what their peers are doing,” Scott said. “They’ll be able to go back to school and talk about their after-school activity.”

Through the program, five Special Olympics athletes from Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, Bernardston Elementary School and Northfield Elementary School bowl alongside nine older “buddies” — also known as unified partners — from Pioneer Valley Regional School who volunteer their time.

“The kids get so excited to see their buddies,” Scott said. “They’ve definitely built a connection.”

The unified partners embrace their roles as buddies, but for a variety of reasons.

“I thought it would be fun to be a friend to somebody else,” said Lily Walker, 14, of Warwick.

“I just love children and love hanging out with them,” said Hannah Sliva, 15, of Northfield. “This is perfect.”

For 18-year-old Abbey Buedinger of Vernon, Vt., assisting the Special Olympics athletes will likely be the start of a career. Buedinger plans to work with special needs children.

Plus, she said, she loves coming to see 10-year-old Corey Doran, a Special Olympics athlete for whom Buedinger is a partner.

“It’s really so much fun,” Corey, who lives in Bernardston, said of the bowling program.

Seven-year-old Kaia Ladner of Bernardston, another athlete, agreed with Doran.

“I love getting here and playing with my buddies,” she said. Her sister, Kirsten, is also involved.

“They love it,” said Molly Ladner, Kirsten and Kaia’s mother. “It’s like the highlight of their week, especially having the buddies.”

For Kirsten, Molly Ladner said, being around the athletes and partners “brings her out of her shell.” For Kaia, the program provides a chance to interact with older children.

“It’s just something they don’t really have anywhere else,” Molly Ladner said.

Scott said this year’s program will continue for another week, after which other Special Olympics activities and competitions will begin. The bowling program’s inaugural year, she said, has been quite a rewarding experience.

“I feel that I’ve learned so much from these students,” Scott said, as a group of bowling pins rattled to the floor.


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