Students earn equal opportunities on lanes
The Reynoldsburg High School bowling team readies the lane for Lauren Sampson as if it was working on a well-trained assembly line.
One teammate brings a ramp to the foul line and Sampson, a freshman, pushes herself to it and gets in position. With the ball placed atop the ramp, Sampson, with a flick of her right hand, rolls it down the apparatus and down the lane.
One hundred pins or so later, Sampson concludes another day of contributing to the Raiders’ burgeoning success — in spite of spina bifida that confines her to a wheelchair.
“What Lauren appreciates is she’s treated like everyone else,” said her mother, Stacey Sampson. “Her teammates even gave her the nickname ‘Wheels.’ I was a little skittish about that at first, but she loves it. She has the opportunity to letter in a sport and that’s important to her. She wants to letter all four years.”
Lauren Sampson, who also enjoys riding horses, skiing and scuba diving, is one of a handful of central Ohio high school bowlers with a physical or mental challenge. Hilliard Darby junior Heather Miller entered the week with five 200 series this season despite being legally blind, Westerville North senior Erin Moore has Down syndrome and Haugland Learning Center — a school in Dublin serving more than 200 youths with autism and related behavioral issues — is fielding a six-person team for the second consecutive year.
“We’ve always been open to everybody,” said Jo Dimond, coordinator of the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference and Central Ohio United States Bowling Congress Association manager. “The only setback would be any delay of the game. We start games at 4 p.m. to give teams time to get to the lanes after school and must be off the lanes at 5:15 in a lot of places, usually (to give way to) leagues.
“But we’ve always been a sport where we want everybody that can participate to participate.”
Before a Jan. 18 match against Columbus East, Sampson had rolled two triple-digit games this season — 108 in the opener against Walnut Ridge on Dec. 5 and 103 against Newark on Jan. 5.
“People don’t realize how difficult a sport bowling is,” Westerville North coach Dean Dabe said. “A coach in basketball is thrilled if a kid shoots 70 percent from 20 feet away, and there’s nothing between him and the basket but air. In bowling, you’re 60 feet away and there’s no telling what a lane pattern might be like. The oil might be applied to the lane in various ways. We’re asking someone to bowl that and be perfect every time.
“But really, bowling is all-inclusive. It doesn’t matter if you’re 4-foot-11 and 220 pounds or 6-5 and 130 pounds. With good training and the right technique, it can be taught to anybody.”
Moore, who was averaging 103.2 through 19 games, achieved two season-bests with a 128 game and 227 series Dec. 16 against Olentangy Liberty. Her challenges in bowling are mostly manageable, Dabe said.
“We run into situations every once in a while where her attention span is short and wanders. She has a tendency to get sidetracked with other things, but that doesn’t last long,” he said. “Sometimes she might stop a foot behind the foul line instead of four or five inches. There might be difficulty with her arm swing when she releases the ball, which comes with hand-eye coordination. But once she catches on, she is pretty good. She is as competitive as any girl on our team. There are some subtle things that require a little additional coaching for her to understand, but she is smart. She learns fast.”
Miller was diagnosed as a toddler with optic nerve hypoplasia, which means her optic nerve is small, pale and missing several fibers. That left her legally blind in both eyes and largely without peripheral vision, but it has not prevented her from taking part in bowling as well as track and field.
Miller rolled a 248 series Dec. 13 against Worthington Kilbourne and had a 151 game Dec. 7 against Hilliard Davidson.
“She has had games in the 140s and 150s and she will have games in the 60s,” Darby coach Bob Clute said. “From what she has told me when she is standing on the lanes, she can see white blobs and she sort of situates herself. She keeps herself in the middle of the lanes. The scoring system puts what pins you have remaining and she will put her face right up to the screen to see what pins she has left.”
Six of Haugland Learning Center’s 10 high-school age students participate on the team, which was conceived when coach Gary Hardin — a onetime junior bowling coach — visited the school to seek admission for his son, Garrett, now a junior.
“I challenge any other school to have a 60-percent participation rate in a sport,” Gary Hardin said. “The biggest benefit is it gets the kids out and socializing. They’re competing as equals with others from around the area. Sometimes, interaction can be awkward for them. But I have yet to run across someone who hasn’t been accepting.”
Hardin said several of his bowlers have Asperger’s syndrome, a higher-functioning form of autism.
“A few kids weren’t sure which fingers to put in the holes (of the ball) at first. Once they did it a few times, you could see the light come on,” Hardin said. “The kids just get out and they have fun. They enjoy it. It’s worked well that way. You just need to be willing to try.”
Participating in a team atmosphere also can be an adjustment or an entirely new experience.
“It’s a whole different gamut being on a team as opposed to skiing or going horseback riding,” Stacey Sampson said. “It’s been a good thing (for Lauren). As a parent, you only want what’s best for your kid and want them to experience all they can. It gives some normalcy to high school, being able to have the opportunities every other student has.”
It’s a lesson coaches and parents hope transcends competition.
“They are so willing to help each other out. They’re so accepting,” Reynoldsburg coach Jean Martin said of her bowlers. “That, to me, is what it’s all about, watching young people growing into decent adults.
“The win is nice, but to watch a person grow as a person and be a part of a team, that, to me, is what it’s about. And with me, everybody bowls. They want to learn, and they’re not going to learn unless they do it.”