Homer athletes take top places at Special Olympics

Bowling over the competition

Posted: Monday, December 15, 2003

Volunteers help Aaron Prevost place his hand over the 16-pound bowling ball.

A little to the left. A bit more to the right.

When it's just so, he eyes his targets at the end of the alley and gives the ball a nudge sending it down a metal ramp toward the tall wooden pins.

Prevost's weekend at the Special Olympics Alaska State Bowling Tournament didn't end with personal bests, although he did get a silver medal.

"I wish I would have bowled a 210, then I would have bowled a 300," said Prevost, grinning widely from his seat in his motorized wheelchair. (Bowling handicaps are added into scores in this tournament just as they are in professional competitions).

But, as one of the 14-member bowling team representing Homer in the state tournament held in Anchorage at the end of Novem-ber, Prevost had a hand in achieving something larger than beating his own record a large team trophy bearing the names of all the squads since 1977 who have won the state honor.

Homer's name is etched on the trophy in only one other instance, next to the year 2000, the first time in Special Olympic Area Director Linda Thompson's memory that the Homer team attained such recognition.

"It's the only trophy given at this big tournament. This," she said reaching to caress the trophy. "Coming home with this was a very big deal."

For the members of Homer's physically and mentally challenged community, the chance to compete and win carries a special importance.

"They don't get to win very much," she said. "They're always not the winners. But going to Special Olympics, they get that to be the winner."

A lot of hard work, on both Thompson's and the athletes' parts, went into the two months of preparation before the state competition.

Dozens of bowlers with varying mental disabilities the requirement for participating in the program met several times a week beginning in August to practice their techniques at the Kachemak Bowling Alley.

Prevost is the exception.

Because the bowling alley isn't wheelchair accessible, Prevost's practices and his local qualifying competition took place in the halls and commons of Homer High School.

That's how all Thompson's athletes practiced in Dillingham, where she first became involved in Special Olympics in 1989 as a way for her son, the artist Eric Behnke, to have an athletic activity.

"I do this for Eric," she said. "I do it for him because I feel that it's my job, for him to have more than just his art. I think having athletic things to do is important physically."

She carried on the tradition when she moved to Homer and saw that the town had a bowling alley.

"The only reason we can have a team is because Mark Cooper lets us use the bowling alley for free," Thompson said.

That contribution is key, she said. Local Special Olympic programs have slim budgets, most of which goes to transportation, so Thompson would have a hard time providing the bowling without the donated alley time.

"There would be no activities, no athletic events, so there wouldn't be the team, the feeling of being on the team," she said.

The same is true statewide, she said.

Homer's team is close knit, if only because of its relatively small size.

"We're a very small team," she said. "We compete against 60, 70 (member teams) from Anchorage. That's why it was so fun that we won over teams from Anchorage, teams from the Mat-Su."

The weekend is about more than the competition, she said.

Special Olympics bowling tournaments historically have more of a turnout than the other seasonal competitions, such as the upcoming snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

"It has the most athletes compete statewide," Thompson said.

It also is a time to catch up with old friends, said Thompson, who was in California last month during the competition.

"This was the first year in all these years that I didn't go," she said. "I wish I had been there. We are a community of about 500 people. It's just my family. That's why I feel really weird not being there."

Beyond the team trophy and the trip to Anchorage something several of the athletes named as their favorite part of the experience members of the Homer delegation also got rewards for their personal achievements.

For the women, Amber Loop got a gold medal in her single and double competition. Jolene Clark got the same for her single performance.

Shaunti Johnson earned a bronze for her singles' score.

For the men, Jody Herd got a gold, Nicholas Kvasnikoff and Ivan Meganack both earned a silver and Johnnie Jones got a bronze.

Others placed in the top 10 slots for individual competitions. Results for the team and double portions of the tournament were unavailable.

Athletes competed for three days in their single and double divisions.

The competition brought 300 athletes from 11 communities.

They are placed in divisions based on their age and bowling handicaps, not their physical or mental disabilities.

"There's a lot of figuring out who's in what division so you're only competing against who you should be competing against," she said.

"Everybody is good with their own ability levels. You can't really say one's better."

Carly Bossert is a reporter for the Homer News.

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