The 2019 Special Olympics Georgia Masters Bowling Tournament was held in Warner Robins Aug. 16-18 and Butts County’s own SHARE Pathfinders Special Olympics team took six athletes and four coaches to compete.
Stephanie Held and Tiffane Cassidy started the weekend off early Friday morning. Both were ready to compete against other athletes from across the state of Georgia. The athletes are teamed up against athletes with similar scores. Stephanie brought home a bronze medal. Tiffane scored a silver medal. Both games were close. Both ladies enjoyed seeing other get their medals.
“These are my two laid back ladies, slowly coming out of their shells to try new things,” said Vicky Cochran, co-coordinator of SHARE-Pathfinders. “This is Stephanie’s third year. She gets anxious about going then has a great time every year. Both of these ladies’ confidence is growing.”
Not only is this a bowling tournament but a time for the athletes to get into the community, Cochran said, the coaches want them to experience a good time plus work on skills. Lunch time is a time of teaching them to order and pay for their own food. “We headed for Five Guys,” Cochran said. “One of our athletes had never been to Five Guys. With a little help, she ordered what she wanted. We don’t just take them to bowl, it’s so much more.”
In the afternoon at the Gold Cup Bowling Center, it was Christina “Chrissie” Marquez’s turn to bowl. “She has improved over the past few years. She rocked her second-place silver,” Cochran said. “If Butts County could see these athletes’ faces, it would bring their heart so much joy.”
In the evening, the team settled on Shane’s Rib Shack for dinner, then visited Southside Baptist Church for a parade of athletes, opening ceremony, bingo and dance.
“It’s packed with athletes meeting up with others they met in past years’ tournaments,” Cochran said. “The dance is loved by all. Bingo is such a big hit that it’s first-come, first-served. It’s a night for our special needs adults to be themselves and enjoy a good night. Again, something everyone should experience and see. They are having fun and loving it.
“Saturday morning bright and early, we head to Gold Cup or Robins AFB Bowling Lanes to start the long day of bowling. Tiffany Rouse and Leena Marquez are ready to meet their competitors. Wow, they had some really tough ones. Leena’s group was so tight in their scores. She was disappointed with her forth-place ribbon, but we were proud,” Cochran said. “We told her she still won. She was really pushing herself. All four young ladies were on a mission to get the gold.
“Tiffany’s group was just as eager to take the gold. Tiffany was happy talking with her new friends and the cute volunteer. She was happy with her silver. Let me tell you these athletes are just like the ones on leagues. They are tough on themselves and each other, but with smiles on their faces.”
Blake Harris didn’t bowl til 4 p.m., Cochran said, so the team had time to hit the mall and Chick-fil-A.
The Georgia Dental Association sponsors the Special Olympics Special Smiles every year, Cochran said, and the athletes get a dental screening if they choose it. Along with their toothbrush and toothpaste, the first hundred athletes received a Chick-fil-A gift card. “So of course, our group wanted to use theirs,” Cochrans said. “Our team in the mall is always hilarious. Past years have seen coaches acting crazy like riding the kiddie rides, bumping into glass doors, trying on funny sunglasses. This year was no different. Laughs were had by all. What’s done at the mall, stays at the mall.”
When it was Blake’s turn to bowl, he was in rare form, having the time of his life, Cochran said, and brought a gold back to Butts County.
“My SHARE-Pathfinders Special Olympics team holds the gold in this coach’s heart. They are wonderful adults that put a smile on my face. I am so proud of them all and their parents/sister,” Cochran said.
“Having a special needs child/adult can be tough at times but when they shine it is well worth all we do for them. We did miss one athlete and coach that had gotten sick. Next year Sarah Maddox you’ll be with us again.”
Cochran said the team hopes to build its ranks and start participating in other sporting activities in the fall, winter and summer games.