Special Olympics celebrates 21st year as prelude to USBC Open Championships


    United States

    2011USBCOCSpecialOlympicsTournament.jpgZachary Taylor of Beemer, Neb., may have been nervous about his first appearance at the Special Olympics National Unified Bowling Tournament this week, but it didn't show as he calmly threw out the official first ball of the tournament at the National Bowling Stadium on Wednesday.

    The 17-year-old right-hander helped kick off the event, which highlighted the opening-week festivities at the United States Bowling Congress Open Championships for the 21st consecutive year.

    "I was nervous, but very happy that I was chosen," said Taylor, who won a team gold medal in Division 4. "The National Bowling Stadium is just crazy. The scoreboard is very different than anything else I've seen. Plus, the hospitality from the staff was great."

    Nearly 400 bowlers, representing 13 states, took their place on bowling's biggest stage and competed in team and doubles competition in front of hundreds of parents, friends, coaches and dignitaries.

    A total of 98 four-player teams graced the lanes at the one-of-a-kind Stadium on Wednesday and returned for doubles Thursday. Each team was comprised of two Special Olympians and their unified partners, which helps carry the message of friendship and camaraderie from year to year.

    Athletes traveled from Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Bowlers competed in 17 team divisions and 32 doubles divisions.

    David Higgs of Jeffersonville, Ind., and fellow athlete, Becky Warren, also of Jeffersonville, made their first trip to Reno, but without a full team. They were paired with Sue Oliver and Benjamin Campen of Glastonbury, Conn., who also did not have a full roster. They called themselves Indiana Combined and went on to win the team gold medal in Division 14.

    "I have been bowling for over 40 years, and this is the most fun I have ever had competing," Higgs said. "I have bowled in the Hoinke and other big-money tournaments, but the Special Olympics just doesn't compare to those. It's very humbling to be a part of this event, which is run by such a great organization."

    During the event's opening ceremony, a proclamation celebrating the relationship between USBC and the Special Olympics was presented by USBC Officer of Education and Diversity Eric Kearney to Greg Epperson, Senior Director of Sports for Special Olympics North America.

    "The proclamation signifies the coming together of both organizations to support the sport of bowling," said Kearney, who also helped present medals and ribbons to the athletes. "USBC will continue to look for specific ways to include Special Olympics athletes in the bowling community."

    Epperson could not agree more.

    "This is an opportunity to partner with the USBC to further promote awareness and increase participation," Epperson said. "Ultimately, we want to continue to break barriers and get our athletes bowling on a broader spectrum."

    The first Special Olympics National Unified Tournament was held in 1991 in Toledo, Ohio, and has preceded the USBC Open Championships ever since. Special Olympics Unified National Tournament Director Marty Allen always looks forward to the event as a chance to re-kindle friendships with bowlers from other states.

    "I've gotten to know many bowlers around the country and many friendships have been created because of this event," Allen said. "Many of our bowlers have bowled in the event several times, and it's nice to see them and create friendships with our first-time participants."

    2011USBCOCLogo.jpgThe 2011 Open Championships will kick off its 122-day run Friday as the first of more than 12,600 five-player teams (63,000+ bowlers) make their way to The Biggest Little City in the World. This year marks the tournament's record 10th trip to Reno and seventh visit to the National Bowling Stadium. The event will run daily from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. until July 3.

    Presenting sponsors for the 2011 USBC Open Championships are Circus Circus, Eldorado Hotel Casino and Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, Nev. Other sponsors include Sands Regency Casino Hotel, official brackets sponsor, Kegel, official lane maintenance provider, Humana, official registration sponsor, US Steltronic, official scoring system, and supporting sponsors Storm Bowling Products, UPS, Atlantis Casino Resort and Spa, Harrah's Reno Casino and Hotel and Peppermill Hotel Casino.


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