When Watterson High School senior Phillip Andrews was diagnosed at age 5 as having a form of autism, his parents, Robert and Teresa, lamented the likelihood that he would miss out on many of the social activities that children experience.
The diagnosis was pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, which according to autismspeaks.org is one of five types of autism spectrum disorders that affect an individual in the areas of communication, behavior and socialization.
In Andrews' case, he spoke very few intelligible words until age 6 and the articulation of his words still is impaired at times. He also has trouble relating with and conversing with his peers.
"Of course, we greatly value Phillip, but there was a sadness when we realized that he wasn't going to be like everyone else socially and that he would miss out on things like going on dates, going to prom and doing summer jobs," Teresa said. "It was hard to see our friends' children doing those kind of things and knowing that our son couldn't do the same."
When Andrews was diagnosed, his parents couldn't have imagined that their son would go on to become a team captain and valuable member of the Watterson boys bowling team.
"We had given up hope long ago that Phillip would be able to do a varsity sport," Teresa said. "When he tried out for the bowling team as a freshman, Phillip was scoring anywhere from 50 to 70 (per game) and I wouldn't have thought he'd ever be able to do varsity. But he's really worked hard to improve and bowling has turned out to be a really positive experience for him."
Andrews competed mostly on junior varsity the past three seasons, but he bowled enough varsity matches to earn a varsity letter each year.
Between his sophomore and junior seasons, he began to bowl year-round and, as a junior, placed first of 150 competitors in the j.v. sectional tournament at HP Lanes with career-high score of 222 to earn a first-place trophy and medal.
His trophy sits proudly on display in the Andrews' home next to a trophy that his great-grandmother, Agatha Kozak, won while competing in an adult bowling league. Teresa said her son was very close with his great-grandmother, who died when he was 7.
"Phillip's great-grandma loved bowling and he's always liked it because it gives him a connection to her," Teresa said. "She bowled three times a week and they had a real close relationship, so he's always had a love for bowling."
This season, Andrews was a starter in six of the Eagles' first 13 varsity matches. He had a 148 game average during that span and, on Dec. 10, rolled a season-high 183 and a 148 to help the Eagles beat Northland 1,997-1,730.
"When Phillip started with us, he couldn't shoot more than 100, but he's become more consistent and hits his mark," coach Jerry Wagner said. "I treat him like everyone else and, if he's not performing well, I'll pull him. But he's improved to the point that he's helping us win matches this season.
"Phillip's a great example of what hard work and dedication will do for you. He never misses a practice and he's bowled more during the summer than most of the kids on our team, and we've watched him get better and better."
Wagner trusts Andrews enough that he lets him fill out the Eagles' lineup card for Baker games in matches. He also has earned the respect of his teammates.
"He's outstanding," said junior Dave Carter, the Eagles' top bowler. "Phillip always does his best and it's great to have him on the team. When we get together in a huddle before our games, Phillip always speaks first and shows his wisdom as a senior."
Teresa said her son has been teased and isolated by many of his peers over the years, but she has noticed that he has become more accepted since he joined the boys bowling team, particularly this season.
"Bowling has really helped with Phillip's socialization because it's given him a common interest to share with other students," Teresa said. "It's been nice to see some of the kids who were initially bullying Phillip are now cheering for him because they are part of the same team and they can see a different side of him."
Andrews also has developed into a well-rounded student over the years. This year he has a 3.6 grade-point average and is a member of Watterson's chess and anime clubs, Teresa said.
Because it takes Andrews longer to read and write than most students, he devotes six hours each Saturday and Sunday to doing homework and studying for exams, his mother said.
Teresa said her son also spends a considerable amount of time doing volunteer work at the Upper Arlington library and St. Brigid of Kildare Church as well as at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
"Watterson is challenging, but it's rewarding because you get to learn from so many great teachers," Andrews said. "When I go to college, I want to work with computers and do something with gaming, because I really like video games."
In the meantime, Andrews is having fun bowling for the Eagles.
"I don't have many goals for bowling, except maybe to get a little bit higher scores than I had last year," he said. "I'm enjoying the experience of playing with the other kids on my team and of seeing how much I can improve. My coaches have helped me a lot, and my teammates cheer for me. It's nice to be a part of the team and to be appreciated."