The athletes competing in the Special Olympics Adult Bowling event for Area 13 on Wednesday morning arrived expecting a morning of friendly competition.
While that was certainly on the agenda, they also had an opportunity to spend a little quality time with a professional baseball player. New York Yankees’ pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, a Tullahoma native, was among the dozens of volunteers who lent a hand during the event.
More than 100 bowlers took part in the competition at Tullahoma Bowling Lanes and about 30 volunteers helped with the event. Area 13 of the Special Olympics serves residents of Coffee, Bedford, Lincoln and Moore counties.
‘They love to shine’
The contest began around 9 a.m. and concluded around noon with a closing ceremony during which all contestants received ribbons.
One of the bowlers, Lee McKelvey, expressed excitement about the opportunity participate in the games on Wednesday. McKelvey has competed in the annual Special Olympics bowling events for years, he said.
“I feel great,” McKelvey said before the games. “I hope to make first place.”
McKelvey is a client of Skills Development Services (SDS) in Tullahoma, an agency providing support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
More than 50 clients of the organization competed in the games, according to Amelia Majors, administrator for SDS and one of the volunteers at the event.
“They are so excited to show off their skills,” Majors said.
While rolling a high score is important to them, SDS clients are even “more excited just to be a part of such a special event,” added Majors.
“They love to shine,” Majors said of the bowlers. “When they knock down pins, the reaction is priceless.”
Practice for the Special Olympics event began in January, said Majors.
Majors’ favorite aspect of the games is seeing “the faces of excitement from the individuals while they are participating,” she said.
Lending a hand
About 30 volunteers helped make the games a reality, and Sheffield was one of them.
“My aunt, Amelia Majors, called me and asked me if I would like to come,” Sheffield said.
Before the games, Sheffield said, “I am looking forward to meeting everybody, all the new faces, and having fun.”
Sheffield encouraged local residents to support community events whenever they have an opportunity.
“It’s important to volunteer,” he said. “I’m always looking to give back to the community any way that I can. When I have days off and I’m not busy, and when things like that come up, why not go out and give back and have fun while doing it? I enjoy doing that, and I am looking forward to it today.”
During the games, Sheffield cheered the bowlers on, recorded scores and participated in the closing ceremony, pinning ribbons onto the athletes and congratulating them.
He said he enjoyed seeing the bowlers “get out there and compete with each other, but also have fun with it.”
A 2014 graduate of the Tullahoma High School, Sheffield made his major-league debut in September, when he pitched the top of the ninth inning against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium.
“It’s definitely awesome. I love my job, and I’m definitely fortunate and blessed. It’s like an everyday job. It’s crazy because it’s like I get to play a game every day,” he said. “We will see what next year has to offer and I’m looking forward to getting ready.”
While competing is important, Sheffield said he also appreciates the chance to create new relationships.
“My favorite thing about the experience is meeting new teammates,” he said. “I meet guys from all over. I have really good friends and have really good relationships with professional baseball players.”
Thankful for the support
Suzanne Foster, director of Special Olympics for Area 13, expressed gratitude to all who helped with the event.
“Celebrating the athletes and their accomplishments” wouldn’t be possible, she said, without the assistance of local residents, organizations and businesses supporting the event.
About 30 volunteers provided support, serving as chaperones for the athletes and recording the scores.
Tullahoma Bowling Lanes has hosted the event for more than 20 years.
About Special Olympics
Special Olympics provides sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The events offer 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 them and to enhance their life experiences.
Elena Cawley can be reached at email@example.com.