The Thunder Lanes Bowling Center in Pine Bluff was full of positive energy Nov. 11 as the annual Special Olympics Arkansas Area 9 bowling tournament returned to the venue.

The Thunder Lanes Bowling Center in Pine Bluff was full of positive energy Nov. 11 as the annual Special Olympics Arkansas Area 9 bowling tournament returned to the venue.

“This started out as a one day event, but with the participation of out-of-town school districts, it has since expanded to four days in total,” Area 9 Director Travis Chisom said to the sound of bowling balls hitting the hardwood lanes mixed with laughs and happy shouts. “If it keeps growing like this we’ll probably have to add a fifth day. We have groups from Sheridan, Stuttgart, DeWitt and Poyen here today along with coaches and volunteers.” “We average about 80 participants per day. I have been with Special Olympics for eight years and we have been involved with this tournament every one of those years,” Chisom said. Chisom said that Tuesday was the tournament day for groups from the Dollarway and White Hall school districts, Thursday will feature Watson Chapel and Pine Bluff, and Friday will have a group from Jenkins Memorial Center competing in the tournament. “Each of the athletes is awarded a Special Olympics medal in Olympic style. We have gold, silver and bronze medals in addition to other medals awarded for participation. Activities like the bowling tournament are important ways to increase the level of physical activity for mentally and physically challenged individuals. They do get some physical activity at school but events like this give them even more of an opportunity to get that activity. They are also given more exposure to the public through events like this,” Chisom said. “I can’t say enough for our volunteers,” Chisom said. “We have around 25 people who volunteer at each bowling event. Some of the volunteers are members of bowling leagues here at the bowling alley. The staff here at the bowling alley prepare and serve a meal for the athletes. Next Tuesday and Thursday, Americorps is planning to send a group of 16 volunteers to help out. Our volunteers really just go all out.” Chisom’s wife, Donna, assists her husband in coordinating Special Olympics activities and enjoys having the opportunity to work with the athletes.

“It’s a really good way for the children to get out and to be with others. It gives them a chance to come out and show what they can do,” she said. Sandra Davenport of White Hall and her 14-year-old son, Jonathan, were enjoying the event.

“This event provides an opportunity for athletes with disabilities to participate and to feel like a regular person,” Davenport said. “It also gives them an outing into the community. My son has been doing this since he was 9. Bowling is one of his favorite Special Olympics sports.”

Davenport also serves as a coach in the Special Olympics program.

“The reason I became a coach is to be able to assist my son and to be able to assist others with disabilities. When you are out there working with them you can see by the smiles on their faces that they are enjoying it and that makes it all worthwhile,” Davenport said. Special Olympics coach Nicole Chism of East End is proud to be able to work with the athletes and to help them excel. “Being a coach means preparing students for the event with practice sessions,” Chism said. “You go through the routine to show them what to do. This is my second year to serve as a Special Olympics coach. As a coach I get to show the kids that they can do what everybody else does. I teach them that they are valuable, they are worth something and they can do anything.”

Travis Chisom said that while there is a minimum age limit of eight to compete in Special Olympics activities, there is no limit at the top end of the scale.

“The folks taking part in the District 9 bowling tournament range in age from eight up to 65. Some of the people in the Jenkins program are older,” Chisom said. “As long as they are mentally or physically disabled individuals enrolled in an accredited special education program they are eligible to compete.” Chisom said that Area 9 includes Jefferson, Arkansas, Lincoln, Grant and Prairie counties.