FORT HOOD, Texas - The Phantom Warriors Lanes here hosted a bowling tournament for Area 12 of the Special Olympics Texas, Nov. 18-19.
Fort Hood’s bowling alley has hosted this event more than 35 years.
Approximately 200 athletes participated in the two-day event, which featured youth athletes from eight area school districts on Nov. 18, and adult athletes competing Nov. 19.
“We love hosting this event at Fort Hood. It is such a special location, unlike any others,” said Shauna Radke, the program director for Area 12 for Special Olympics Texas. “This is just one of many events in the area.”
Due to COVID-19, this tournament was the first at Fort Hood in two years.
“We came back because it is a collaboration commitment we’ve all made. It’s great, I love the set up, it’s unlike any other bowling alley,” Radke said. “It’s just so warm and welcoming.”
Radke has been a program director since late 2019, though she started off with the program as coach. She was introduced to the program originally as a teacher who worked with special needs students.
When asked why she chose to work for this organization, she stated simply “to make sure the special needs community gets heard.”
“I want them to be recognized, they’re just like us. We’re all the same. They may need a little bit more assistance than some people, but you know what, they need to be heard,” Radke said. “And with this organization, they help (with them) being heard; they’re an advocate for them.”
The entire bowling alley was filled, Nov. 18, with the youth athletes, helpers from the various school districts, coaches, parents, Special Olympics Texas staff and volunteers from both on and off Fort Hood.
Each person at the event had their own reason for being there.
“Outside of school, I do social work for kids with disabilities. So I’m drawn to children with disabilities because I believe that they should be treated equal as the normal kids, whatever normal means,” said Jessica Thomas, a volunteer for the event from Killeen Independent School District. “We love the kids.”
Each volunteer worked on their own lanes – offering assistance to the athletes throughout the competition. They were not the only ones offering assistance though, as parents were gathered in every seating area throughout the bowling alley.
“This sport, this event, gives them confidence,” shared Heather Gerber, mother of Gavin Gerber, a Special Olympics athlete from Midway Independent School District. “It allows them to be more social with their peers of their own age and it just gives them a sense of accomplishment too because they’ve been practicing for three weeks now, so this is a culmination of that practice. It gives them that boost that they need.”
When asked what is special about Fort Hood hosting this event, Heather said that it allows the athletes to see a different part of Texas.
“We have just been practicing in Waco so it allows them to kind of see a process, like a structured process, because I’m sure they had to wait in line at the gate,” she expressed. “And anytime they can experience different locations and things like that is wonderful for them, (because it) increases their social skills.”
When asked if he enjoyed the bowling event, Gavin’s face lit up with joy as he exclaimed, “Yes! I want to practice with my friends. I like the bowling alley.”
He wasn’t the only one, as the excitement was palpable within the bowling alley.
This bowling tournament is just one of many events that happen within Central Texas, and Radke wants to remind everyone that these events happen year-round.
“Bring your athletes. Let them know that they’ve got a home, they’ve got a place where they can play sports. And even those that don’t have special needs, ... come. Be part of it,” Radke shared. “We play alongside these athletes and that is an experience in it of itself; there is nothing like it. And unless you do it, you don’t know what it is. It’s just the coolest feeling because you may be helping them learn a sport or teaching a sport, (but) they’re teaching you. There’s so many things that they end up teaching you in the end.”
For more information on Special Olympics Texas, visit their website https://www.sotx.org.