With no director at the helm of Area 13 last year, the local Special Olympics canceled its student bowling event. But after Suzanne Foster was named director in February, all Special Olympics events for the area are back on schedule, including bowling.

The friendly competition, hosted by Tullahoma Bowling Lanes, started about 9 a.m. on Tuesday, after an opening ceremony.

Area 13 serves Coffee, Bedford, Franklin, Lincoln and Moore counties. And, according to Foster, more than 170 students from 21 delegations competed in the games, with each one receiving a ribbon afterward.

During the games, Foster said, about 30 volunteers helped keep the event running smoothly.

“The event cannot be held without volunteers,” she said, praising those who assisted with organizing the competition.

Foster said her favorite aspect of the event is “the student athletes working hard and celebrating each other’s accomplishments.”


Supporting the event

Tullahoma Bowling Lanes has hosted the event for more than 20 years, according to General Manager Eric Eakin, who has been with the company since 2002.

“We host the Special Olympics event for students – that’s elementary, middle and high school students,” Eakin said. “They are broken into different divisions, based on ability. When they finish bowling, they receive the ribbons and have lunch before they head back to their school.”

Tullahoma Bowling Lanes not only provides the venue, it also provides lunch to all participants.

“They get hamburgers, chips and drinks,” Eakin said. “When they are done bowling, they have an opportunity to eat lunch here and get something a little bit different from what they normally have, before they go back to school.”

Funds for the meals are raised for several months prior to the event.

“We make the lunch here, and the league bowlers cover the cost of that,” he said. “Our league bowlers raise money throughout their season, and they use that money to purchase lunches for (the Special Olympics athletes),” Eakin said.

Each week, league bowlers organize various activities to raise funds, said Eakin.

“Our league bowlers have always been really good about doing that for us.”

About 450 local league bowlers take part.

“Every night of the week, we have a different league,” he said. “During their league, they run different contests; half of the money goes to the winning bowler and the other half goes into a fund that supports various charities throughout the year.”

Special Olympics is one of those charities.

“The money they raise for Special Olympics goes directly toward purchasing the lunches,” he said.

During the event, Tullahoma Bowling Lanes doesn’t charge participants to rent bowling shoes either.


Enjoying the smiles

The day of the games is always exciting, said Eakin.

“The best part is seeing the athletes’ enjoyment,” he said. “They are smiling, cheering and chanting. They are really into it, and you can tell they are having a good time, especially when they knock down a lot of pins.”

The participants celebrate each other’s success.

“Not only the athletes that knock the pins down get excited, but all the others that are participating and watching get excited, too – they get excited for each other,” he said. “The look on their faces says it all.”


Lending a hand

“We wouldn’t be able to host the event without the volunteers that come here and help,” Eakin said in thanks for their efforts.  

Volunteers assist during the registration process and with recording the scores. They also serve as chaperones for the participants during the event.

“Without the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to have the event as quickly and to get the students on the bus and back to school in time,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do as efficiently.”

Parents of the athletes, school representatives, employees of the Skills Development Services and local citizens volunteer for the event.

Skills Development Services provides assistance for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.


About Special Olympics

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The events provide to participants continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, experience joy and participate in sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with other athletes.

There are about 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. The goal of Special Olympics is to reach out to each of them.

Elena Cawley can be reached at ecawley@tullahomanews.com.