Special Olympics bowlers hold tourney in Englewood

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It was standing room only Nov. 10 at AMF Belleview Lanes as the facility hosted the Special Olympics State Bowling Tournament.

More than 400 athletes, representing about 30 teams from around the state, took part on Federal Boulevard near Belleview Avenue.

Although the facility has 48 lanes, the competition had to be divided into a morning session and an afternoon session to accommodate all the bowlers and the competitions.

The traditional bowling sounds filled the air like the sound of the ball rolling down the alley and crashing into the pins.

One difference was the almost constant cheering and applause that followed every bowler's effort.

While there is cheering for a traditional bowler who has a good frame, at Special Olympics the bowler was cheered by teammates, opponents and spectators whether the ball went down the gutter or scored a strike.

“We love this event because of the way everyone cheers and applauds every bowler's effort,” said Chris Timlin, general manager of AMF Belleview Lanes. “It is our biggest day of the year, and we love it because it feels good to give back and do our part to support these special athletes.”

He said employees request to be on shift for the event and the extra reward is the bright eyes and smiles on the faces of all the bowlers.

Steve Karhjala, director of Mile High Special Olympics, said the bowling tournament is a big deal for the athletes.

“Bowling is our largest sports program,” he said. “Every athlete wants earn a spot at state but less than half the bowlers qualify, so it is a great honor to be here.”

He said AMF Belleview Lanes does a lot of the preparation, and on tournament day, about 50 volunteers step up to help with the event.

Littleton resident Judd Dunkin donned the special shirt identifying him as a volunteer. He said he doesn't have anyone in the program, but has made friends and volunteers his time to help with events as often as he can.

“It just makes me feel good to be here and help out these folks,” he said.

There were teams from around the state, including Colorado Springs, Longmont, Parker, and several teams from Highlands Ranch and Centennial.

The team serving athletes in the Englewood-Littleton area is the Southsiders. This year, the Southsiders had 12 athletes at the state bowling tournament, and Sheena Johnson was one of the athletes at the event for the first time.

“We were part of a softball program in the Foothills program when someone told us about Special Olympics,” said Bonnie Johnson, Sheena's mother. “We got in touch with the Southsiders team, joined, and it has been a wonderful experience for Sheena and for me.”

Bonnie said her daughter takes part in four sports, and the participation has been tremendous for the girl.

“Sheena has made a lot of new friends through Special Olympics,” her mother said. “Taking part in the sports and being part of the team also has really boosted her self-confidence.”

Sheena said she likes all the sports equally, and she likes bowling because she likes to knock down the pins.

Katie Guthrie is Sheena's Southsiders teammate. Her mother, Theresa, said Katie, an Englewood High School graduate, has been involved in Special Olympics since she was in the sixth grade.

“Special Olympics are wonderful and Katie loves it. She enjoys meeting people and being part of the basketball, track and bowling teams,” Theresa said. “She loves competition and she said she will do her best bowling today, but her score doesn't matter because she is thrilled to come to state.”