A Special Day For Special Olympians

A track and field meet at Connetquot is next
Luke Brierley, 11, shown with Lisa Lawler, Pam Carroll, and Vanessa Edwardes, all of the John M. Marshall Elementary School, was the winner in the male 8-to-11-year-old division. Jack Graves

    East Hampton Bowl was packed Sunday morning with the parents, teachers, and friends of 60 young bowlers with disabilities who, in high spirits and urged on by the applause of their elders and peers, participated in a tournament that capped two months of practice.
    “Special Olympics enables disabled athletes to compete with their peers,” said Whitney Reidlinger, an occupational therapist at the Springs School who introduced Special Olympics bowling here five years ago. “You can see how they take to it. We’ve got bowlers from 8 years old to 21, from Sayville, Southampton, Springs, Montauk, and East Hampton — the elementary school, middle school, and high school. It’s wonderful for socialization, having them all together. Friendships are built here. . . .”
    Looking about her, she added, “It’s a great event, it’s nice to see the community come together like this. We had the Springs School band play the national anthem. Girl Scouts and Brownies are selling Girl Scout cookies. We even have a D.J.” — Josh Brussell.
    In a separate conversation later in the week, Reidlinger said in answer to a  question that the range of disabilities among the participants included Down syndrome, autism, intellectual disabilities, and visual impairment. “And,” as she said the other day, “they very much like the competition and the socialization, which helps them with developing independence. Some of them two years ago had to have others put their shoes on and to carry the ball. Now, they can do these things themselves.”
    As for the dance party afterward — Brussell volunteered his time — “the kids love it,” she said. “It’s wonderful for their socialization, it gives them a chance to relax. At the states, they have a dance — it’s almost a formal.”
    The Springs PTA donated sandwiches that day, and the hot dogs and chips were paid for through a January bake sale put on by that district’s special athletes. The cookies and cakes, baked by the kids, “were in the shape of different planets and stars . . . in connection with their astronomy and living skills lessons.”
    “They’re shy in the beginning,” said one of the bowlers’ aides, Vanessa Edwardes, a paraprofessional at the John M. Marshall Elementary School who was, along with Pam Carroll, helping 11-year-old Luke Brierley. “And then they blossom.”
    After slapping high-fives with Acie Harris, a 14-year-old Montauker, Ha­leigh Schellinger said, “Today’s his birthday.”
    Erin Abran, a third-grade teacher at John Marshall and the high school varsity softball team’s assistant coach, said, “The bowling alley’s been very generous. Today is free and they let us practice at discounted rates. It’s amazing, they’re having fun, they’re cheering each other, which is what it’s all about.”
    An open Special Olympics bowling tournament is to be held June 3 at the Sayville Lanes, and an Islandwide track and field meet for Special Olympians is to be held at the Connetquot High School on May 6. Those events will be qualifiers for the state’s Special Olympics competition in Buffalo in June.
    “They’ll have just about everything at the track and field meet but the hurdles,” said Reidlinger. “Sprints, the shot-put, the long jump, the high jump. . . . In one of the meets I was at, a blind athlete, tethered to a guide rope, ran the 800!”
    Sunday’s gold medal winners, all from East Hampton, were: Mary Kate Kopka in the female 8-to-11-year-old division; Jennifer Brito Belo, female 12-15; LeMy Hoang, female 16-18.
    Yonathan Dias, male 8-to-9; Adam Gebo-Rosenthal, male 10-11; Bryan Chacon, male 12-15; Robert Brodrick, male 16-18; Anthony Palacios, male 19-year-olds, and Joseph Hodgens, male 20-year-olds.
    The ramp bowling winners were Kerri Schieder of Montauk, female 8-to-11; Paul Retana of Springs, female 12-15; Luke Brierley of East Hampton, male 8-11; Isaiah Brodie of Springs, male 12-13, and Kendall Vorpahl of Montauk, male 14-15.