Severna Park Lanes was standing room only earlier this month with spirit on display to rival any high school sport in the area.
The excitement was due to the Severna Park High School unified bowling team’s February 3 match against the Edgewater, Maryland-based South River High School.
The Special Olympics Unified Sports program is an avenue of carrying out and fulfilling the mission of Special Olympics. Teams are put together in such a way as to provide training and competition opportunities that challenge and involve all athletes. The Unified Sports program in Anne Arundel County high schools are composed of co-ed teams with a recommended balance of students on the roster — half with disabilities and half without.
Currently, high school students at Severna Park can compete in three unified sports. The school offers bowling in the winter, tennis in the fall and bocce in the spring.
“It’s all about having fun and making friendships,” said Severna Park unified bowling coach Nadine Hendler. “It’s cool as a coach to see kids in a different environment outside of the classroom.”
While fun and friendships were on full display, the scores also matter. Unified bowling is a sanctioned sport, complete with county standings and varsity letters.
Severna Park sophomore Grace Curtin encouraged her partner for the match, senior Natalie Recor, and offered high-fives after each bowl. It’s much more than strikes and spares that bond the pair, though.
“Hanging out with friends is my favorite part,” Recor said.
Curtin said she sits with Recor at lunch, and they even go out to get their nails done together.
“It’s something to look forward to at the end of the day,” Curtin said of her activities with Recor and bowling practice twice a week after school.
Senior Jaden Givens is participating in unified bowling for the first time this season.
“I love the atmosphere,” Givens said. “There’s a lot of positive vibes going around.”
His mother, Tracy, is a special education attorney, and she touted the unified bowling program where race, disability, sex and other discriminators aren’t a factor.
“I’m very proud that he’s decided to be a part of it,” Tracy said. “He knows everybody needs a space to grow and develop.”
Severna Park junior John Burkhardt had never bowled before this season, but he’s relishing the opportunity that unified sports allows.
“You’re showing the kids who couldn’t try out for a regular sport what it’s like being on a team,” Burkhardt said.
Melissa Masterson was at Severna Park Lanes cheering on her son, Brady, and daughter, Alexandra. They both compete on the Severna Park squad.
Masterson said unified bowling is a great program for kids to be supportive of each other.
“It’s a way for them to get to know other kids they might normally not see at school,” Masterson said.
Many students said the fellowship is just as important to them as the sport. In between turns, tables were filled with bowlers laughing, joking, eating and encouraging their teammates. In short, they were able to be themselves — teenagers.
“I just love that they have the opportunity for all kids to participate in a varsity sport with no judgment,” said Jenn Bonk, whose son Ryan bowls for the Falcons team.
Going into the matchup against South River, the Severna Park unified bowling team was in first place among the county’s large teams. A county tournament is slated for February 17.
Hendler said Severna Park students interested in participating in unified sports can register just like other sports during each season.
“The program is about taking care of everybody,” Hendler said.