By Zachary Cormier
Tuesday night may be one of the busiest of the week at the Ambassador Bowling Centre.
The place is packed for a Tuesday night. About 50 people are gathered around the front five lanes of the 10-lane alley, all craning to make sure they can see the lanes and the 35 bowlers who are doing their best to post a good score. The roar of bowling balls and the clatter of pins fills the small establishment in downtown Lacombe.
Suddenly, a cheer goes up from one of the lanes as they celebrate a strike by one of their competitors, who is grinning from ear to ear as he walks back to his seat, high-fiving everyone along the way.
“It’s basically the same as any other bowling program,” said Dwayne Campbell, the chairperson of Special Olympics Lacombe Affiliate, whose bowling team practices on Tuesday nights every week in the city.
Campbell said the program is very similar to other youth bowling programs in that the bowlers are organized into eight teams of four to five bowlers who rotate through playing other teams week to week, but there is one key difference.
“One of the key parts with Special Olympics is, really, you compete against yourself,” he said.
Every week the bowlers try to improve their scores from the previous session with the help of a group of volunteer coaches.
“We do go to tournaments and that type of thing, but at the same time the thing is you establish your range for your ability and then you compete against that to try and improve as an individual and advance.”
Lacombe’s Special Olympics program, which is now in its 11th year, allows athletes an opportunity to get active and compete with others at their own level and pace.
“We need to have a recreational opportunity for any athlete that doesn’t fit into other community-based programs,” Campbell said.
“Some of them are just here for the fun, they just come and participate each week. Others have a little bit more interest or commitment to improve their performance, so we give them a little bit more coaching and give them the opportunity to be more successful.”
According to Campbell, the Special Olympics program in Lacombe has a very wide variety of participants.
“What we call it is ‘Lacombe and district,’ so we have athletes from Mirror, Ponoka, Lacombe, Blackfalds. We used to have a few from the west country; Bentley, Rimbey. Our athletes range from 10 years to 70 years, so a wide range of ages, a wide range of situations that limit them from other community sports,” he said.
Participants can choose to compete in a couple of different sports, including five-pin bowling and swimming in the winter and softball and bocce in the summer.
“The first thing is it’s just something for them to do for their own health and lifestyle and as far as their own well-being where you change it out and have some physical exercise,” Campbell said.
In addition to providing athletes with an opportunity to compete, the weekly practice sessions and games are also good places for participants to socialize and find acceptance, said Salene Matheson.
Matheson’s son, Kobe, is a junior high student who has been participating in the Special Olympics for four years.
“It makes him feel like part of the community and part of a team. A lot of kids that have special needs don’t ever get to go to sports and challenge with other people. So when they come to the practices, they feel that they are on a team.”
“I get strikes. I get to come out and meet new people. I have a bunch of new friends here,” Kobe added.
The sports also give younger participants, like Kobe, a chance to develop communications skills that will help them later on in life.
“He’s been able to develop a lot as an athlete. For him, having that opportunity, I think in a lot of different sports, gives him a sense of belonging and something to aim for. So it’s been good for him as a bowler and it’s been good for him to adapt and learn, meet new people. It teaches him how to communicate and how to celebrate, all the other things that he can’t do in a lot of other areas,” said Kobe’s father, Dan.
One thing both the Mathesons and Campbell wanted to encourage was participation in Special Olympics.
“I don’t think a lot of people know that there is Special Olympics in Lacombe. To get some of the younger people out here would be really good, because I think a lot of the athletes are the older participants,” Salene said, adding that Kobe is the second youngest athlete in the bowling program.
Campbell added that they are always looking for volunteers who would be willing to help out during any of the sports.
“We probably have about 15 volunteers — a number are parents, a number are non-parents. It’s good support and good interest to come out and be involved.”
If you would like more information on the Special Olympics programs in Lacombe you can visit the web site at www.specialolympics.ab.ca/lacombe.