ROCKINGHAM — “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” said Hamlet Middle School student Tahvon Capel as he read the Special Olympics athlete’s oath before Tuesday’s bowling event.
Several participants put up big numbers, but those with less experience were no less enthusiastic. Mike Hill, owner of Striker’s Bowling Center where the games have been held since their beginning eight years ago, has seen the athletes grow from each stage of their ability.
“It makes you feel blessed is what it does,” Hill said as the event came to a close. “The excitement these kids have — they hit one pin and they’ll start clapping. They never complain.”
Kevin Farris, 19, scored a 133, the third-highest score of the day. His mother, Debbie Farris, said he’s been competing in the Special Olympics since he was little, and he now bowls better than she does.
“He loves being around everybody and having fun,” she said. “It’s wonderful that they have these events and that people donate their time to support it.”
Melissa Dennis, a teacher at Washington Street Elementary, said her students practiced for eight weeks leading up to the games.
“(Bowling in the Olympics) gives them a sense of accomplishment,” Dennis said. “It brings them together, they don’t get to meet a lot of other kids like them.”
Stephanie Upton, also a teacher at Washington Street Elementary, said the sportsmanship the kids show at the Olympics is unlike any other sporting event they could compete in. One of Upton’s students, Jamie Allen, 10, said bowling is “the best sport.”
“It does so much for them to get involved in things they would never do otherwise,” Upton said. “They are so supportive of each other … you can tell when you watch them show off their medals how proud they are.”
It was the largest participation of any bowling event prior with about 120 total participants in the youth and adult categories combined. The event is supported wholey through fundraisers done throughout the year. Vondrehle provided the T-shirts for the event, while the VFW Post 4203 and Post 4203 Auxiliary provided the food.
Justin Dawkins, plant manager for the Cordova Vondrehle plant, said he was impressed that the school system was able to bring out so many athletes to compete in the games.
“We saw them together at the Cordova School and it’s great seeing them all come back together,” Dawkins said.
For the first time, members of the Rockingham Police Department volunteered to cheer the athletes on as well as assist when needed. The officers knew many of the kids from other outreach programs such as Secret Santa or from making the calendar they do every year, and said they enjoyed interacting with them.
Detective Shawn Paxton said the Olympics allow the kids to “be themselves.”
Daniel Skipper had 158 points, the second-highest score of the day (highest scorer was Chris Roscoe with 183). Skipper, 27, has been bowling for five or six years and said he’s just having fun, but — after a deep breath — said the Olympics “makes me want to be more competitive, makes me feel more energized.”
“We need more volunteers,” he said. “More help equals more kids (having this experience).”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]