with gallery: Saturday bowling league provides social outlet for people with developmental disabilities
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The din of bowling balls sailing down the alleys crashing into pins filled the crowded Bel-Mark Lanes Bowling Center on Ann Arbor's Jackson Road Saturday morning.
Saturday mornings from September through April is the time for the Challengers League, which attracts bowlers of all ages from all over Washtenaw County. But what makes this league distinct is that it is specifically for people with developmental disabilities. Bob Pierce and his wife Nadine Anderson started the league 17 years ago.
"Our son is developmentally disabled, and we knew that once a child leaves the public school system, the opportunities for recreational and social programs for this population is extremely limited in Michigan," said Pierce. "We wanted to create an environment where the participants felt safe and free to be themselves."
The goal, Pierce says, is to have fun, and close to 60 bowlers were working on that goal Friday morning, a huge increase from the original group of 16 bowlers. Pierce says that number can reach 100 some weeks.
"I love bowling and my friends here help me," said participant Shemia Cain from Ypsilanti.
Evan Phelps from Milan recently joined the Challengers league.
"I like the people and the flat screens and the updated floor area," said Phelps. "I'm looking to become a pro bowler."
Participant Dan Polens also may be on track to go pro. He bowled a 217 this morning.
"I have a driven desire to bowl," said Polens. "I like the people and the sport."
His mom, Emilie Polens, accompanied him at the event.
"He can really excel and feel pride here," Emilie Polens said.
The league meets 32 to 34 weeks each year on Saturday mornings, and Pierce says parents and staff use the bowling date as an incentive for behavioral changes and motivation all week. He says that it provides respite opportunities for families with children with disabilities and also is a great source of information about services and networking that people share.
Bowlers are expected to contribute to the cost of bowling, which Bel-Mark Lanes owner Marc Smoltz offers at a reduced rate. Donations, which cover the cost of T-shirts, trophies and pizza parties, come from several sources, including the St. Louis Center in Chelsea where many of the participants live.
"Our residents look forward to the bowling league," said Steve Daut, finance director at the St. Louis Center. "It's a community activity, a social time, and it gets them out and active and having fun with their peer group."
Volunteer Dick Dice, who has been coming to the Saturday league for nine years, says that after Pierce invited him to help out, he wanted to stay.
"The interaction in the group is fun to watch," said Dice. "I look forward on Saturday mornings to being around people who care about you and that you enjoy being with. It works both ways."
For longtime volunteer John Harook, there's nowhere he'd rather be on Saturday morning.
"These folks are great," said Harook. "It's a lot better than being out in the real world."
Daut says, "Bob and Nadine and the other volunteers are dedicated to volunteering, and they make a huge difference in peoples' lives."