By Heather Fiore
It’s a warm Saturday afternoon and the sun is finally out and shining. Most students are probably sleeping, recovering from the previous night’s activities or out and about doing various other things. However, a handful of Rider students are choosing to have an impact on others’ lives by bowling with students with special abilities at Curtis Lanes in Ewing.
These students compose the Lawrence Lightning Unified Special Olympics Bowling Team. On Saturday, they competed in the Unified Special Olympics Bowling Tournament for the New Jersey Special Olympics.
“You do not need to be affiliated with a university, and as far as I am aware, in New Jersey, no other university is involved with unified bowling,” said Dr. Hope Corman, professor of economics and organizer of Lawrence Lightning Unified Special Olympics Bowling Team. “We are quite unique.”
Lawrence Lightning has existed for 10 years and Rider students have been a part of it since its inception. Although only 16 students compete, there have been more than 50 students who have volunteered for the team throughout the course of the year.
“‘Unified’ means that special athletes participate with typical peers. We bowl in teams of two special athletes and two partners,” Corman said. “Our program sent eight teams to compete with teams throughout the state of New Jersey.”
The students meet every Monday to bowl three games. The games begin at the end of September and last through the last week of the fall semester. They pick up again during the second week of the spring semester until the final tournament, which usually occurs at the end of March or the beginning of April. The students bowl at Curtis Lanes, which has been accommodating to the team and is one of the best hosts the team has had thus far, according to Corman.
One bowler, senior Halley Goldstein, has been bowling with Lawrence Lightning since her freshman year.
“I think the athletes are really what inspired me,” she said. “No matter how bad of a day I was having, they would smile at me, ask how I was doing and give me a hug and I would instantly feel better. It was a really amazing feeling knowing that I had them to look forward to each week.”
Since Lawrence Lightning is a Special Olympics group and not an official Rider club, it doesn’t meet on campus. Everything is either discussed by e-mail or at the actual bowling alley each week.
The team consists of a variety of Rider students from all years and majors, from special education and psychology to business and music majors. The students bowl with the special athletes, whom they are matched up with according to their average and gender.
“Most of the bowlers need no help, so it is pretty much a peer experience,” Corman said. “In fact, for a given week, the top scorer on the lane may be one of the special athletes and not a Rider student. What is true of all bowlers is that each bowler is happy when getting a strike and unhappy when getting a gutter ball.”
Although students aren’t obligated to partake in this event, some students receive credit for their field experiences for specific courses. However, others do it for the personal gratification and enjoyment.
Halley’s twin, Lauryn, has been competing for just as long and said she was inspired by her family to join the team.
“My grandparents had a camp for disabled children and they always helped anyone with disabilities,” she said. “I wanted to follow in their big footsteps.”
Corman’s passion and interest to start the Lawrence Lightning stems from her personal life, since her daughter has Down Syndrome and is one of the athletes on the team.
“Over 10 years ago, a teacher organized a bowling social event at Rider. It was a success, and I thought I would continue to do this,” Corman said. “Bowling is a fun activity, which is also social. It has been a favorite activity of the special athletes from the beginning.”
Since then, Corman has been an active organizer and applauds students who have been loyal to the team and special athletes.
The students say they benefit from the experience.
Aside from relieving some stress by bowling each week, Lauryn Goldstein has taken something valuable and important from her time on the team.
“I have learned that no matter who you are, what color, disability or not, age, everyone just wants companionship and friends,” she said. “I am so glad that I was able to befriend so many of the bowlers. If I could do it again I would, but not to change anything, just because it was so much fun and a great learning experience.”