"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." - Special Olympics Athlete Oath.
What better way to spend a rainy March weekend than volunteering for Special Olympics New Jersey at the Spring Sports Festival Bowling, held at Brunswick Zone Bowling Alley in North Brunswick. Founded in 1968, Special Olympics provides training and athletic competition in a number of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
As a member of the Volunteer Management Team, the day's challenges test our fortitude. Not quite set up for volunteer check-in, the volunteers start to arrive bright-eyed and cheery, as much as anyone can be so early in the morning. After registering each volunteer, providing them with a t-shirt and nametag, they are ushered off to orientation.
Volunteer check-in completed and everything packed away, orientation conducted, opening ceremonies finished, the games begin.
Bowling has been around since 3200 B.C. when primitive bowling balls and bowling pins were discovered by archaeologists buried in Egypt. Fully automatic pinsetters now set the numbered bowling pins arranged in a triangle, replacing human pin boys. An automated electronic scoring system supersedes the complex manual scoring system.
The objective of the game is to roll the bowling ball down the lane scoring points by knocking down as many bowling pins as possible.
While most bowling balls are made from polyurethane with reactive resin or particle added to create friction, some plastic balls are still used. Three holes are typically drilled into the ball. A bowler's grip determines how the ball moves down the lane, by placing a thumb in one hole and the middle and ring fingers in the other two holes. In professional competition, the weight of the bowling ball may not exceed more than 16 pounds. Special Olympics follow specific rules for game play and equipment must be approved.
The Spring Sports Festival, featuring more than 1200 athletes, hosts Bowling, centrally located, as one of the sports, while Basketball is held simultaneously in Cape May, NJ. Individual athletes and teams throughout the state play against one another in the final competition of the season. The athletes earn their place in the Spring Sports Festival from previously played Sectional games.
Teams compete on Saturday in a separate competition. Cheers ring out above the noise of the ten bowling pins clanking down, after delivery of the first ball, for a 'Strike'. The athlete earns ten points, plus points for the next two balls thrown.
Excitement builds following each scored 'Spare' - pins left standing after the first ball, are knocked down by the second ball. The athlete earns 10 points, plus points for the next ball thrown in that frame.
As the final teams compete and the high scores start to emerge, the Awards Volunteers prepare the medals for presentation at Awards Ceremony.
Saturday morning teams scoring the highest points are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals.
Souvenirs for Sale.
Check-in completed and all volunteers at their assigned positions, my second duty selling souvenirs rounds off the weekend.
Joining the Souvenirs Committee, who has been selling souvenirs since early morning, they welcome a break. It can get pretty hectic at times, but it gives us the opportunity to salute the athletes who stop by.
Returning on Sunday, the athletes anxiously await their turn during Individual Competition. Volunteers are on hand to give an assist.
Straight Ball on Target.
A second group of athletes arrive for the afternoon session. After a brief lunch break, the volunteers return to their assigned lanes. The athlete pictured above lines up the target, reeling her bowling ball as straight as an arrow down the narrow lane avoiding the gutters on either side.
Crowds applaud during the 10th frame, as bowling balls whirl within lanes, knocking down all the pins in their path. The final frame signals the close of the games.
The Awards Committee stands by while scores are tallied. Anticipation mounts before medals are awarded for Sunday competition.
At the Awards Ceremony, athletes receive well-deserved medals for the highest scores in Individual competition. Their year-long training paid off.
The young lady above, participating for the first time in a Special Olympics competition, proudly displays her gold medal.
Congratulations to all the athletes competing this weekend. With gleeful smiles on their faces, they know that they performed their best.
Special Olympics New Jersey hosts the 2014 National Games in the Princeton area in June, providing a variety of volunteer opportunities to support this major event.