Laughter, chatter, and bowling pins clanking against one and another echo from lane to lane – a typical scene for a bowling alley. Now add in moments of kind coaching, tremendous focus, ecstatic celebrations, and handfuls of high-fives. You’re picturing the Bellingham Independents.
Bellingham Independents is a Special Olympics community group located in Bellingham, Washington. The object of the group is to make a variety of competitive sports available to individuals who have varying disabilities. Depending on the season, Bellingham Independents offers swimming, soccer, T-ball, softball, bowling, basketball, and flag football.
Most recently, Bellingham Independents have started their 2016 bowling season. A whopping 45-50 athletes are participating this term, confirming that bowling is the group’s most popular sport.
Though Bellingham Independents can include students in high school, the athletes are mainly older individuals who do not qualify to participate with a high school Special Olympics program due to their age. Through Bellingham Independents, loads of individuals have the chance to continue – or start – competing in different sports beyond their school experiences.
Bobbie Wiley, coach of the Bellingham Independents bowling, has been involved in the program for 10 years. Team bowling practices are held at 20th Century Bowl, which graciously opens an hour early on Sundays so the Bellingham Independents can have a full two hours to themselves.
“Bowling has an amazing turnout,” said Wiley. “Everyone tries hard and has a great time.”
Tim Davenport, 22, one of the athletes this bowling season, agreed that he has a “seriously awesome” time at practices. Mostly Tim appreciates the fact that he knows a lot of the people involved but makes new friends, too.
Tim also believes he has improved in his bowling abilities compared to when he used to play in high school. He finds himself getting spares and an occasional strike far more often than ever before. Yet, that is not the highlight for him in the program.
No, when asked about his most favorable aspect to Bellingham Independents bowling, he smiled and said, “I would have to say all the people involved.”
Tim said it well. The people who take part in Bellingham Independents – both athletes and volunteers/coaches – undoubtedly create a kind and openhearted environment to welcome all participants. Volunteers do anything from helping to set up, to assisting athletes as they bowl.
Mary Mills is one of the volunteers that embodies the Bellingham Independents inspiring attitude. With years of volunteer experience in Bellingham Independents basketball, soccer, swimming, and softball, Mary is more than happy to also help with bowling this season.
“Everyone has their own bowling technique,” she said. “But that’s what is so great – each athlete can enjoy and compete with their own process while still socializing, having fun, and being active.”
Though the range of processes among the bowler athletes is widespread, the ramp bowlers especially stand out. Ramps have been donated to the program for bowlers that lack the upper body strength needed to roll the ball on their own. By helping to provide control of the ball, ramps make it possible for a number of athletes to bowl who would not be able to otherwise.
Bobbie and Mary are just two of the many helpful individuals involved in this astounding program, yet there is still a call for more. With so many interested athletes, such as Tim, heaps of work must go toward helping the athletes and maintaining the facilities and gear. High school students are even able to receive physical education credits by volunteering with certain Special Olympics programs.
If you have any desire to assist Bellingham Independents, the bowling season would greatly benefit. Specifically, the Bellingham Independents will be teaming up against other Special Olympics programs such as Skagit and Anacortes in a bowling tournament on Sunday, Nov. 6, at Park Bowl in Bellingham.
A total of 40 volunteers are still needed and you can be one of them.
Take a look at the Bellingham Independents website to view their bowling practice schedule and event details. Be sure to contact the brilliant group organizer of all Bellingham Independent sports, LaVonne Olsen, to become a potential volunteer.