NORFOLK, NE — Knocking down pins and breaking down barriers.
That’s what these Norfolk High School students are doing as part of the first ever Unified Bowling League sanctioned by the Nebraska School Activities Association. The team is composed of students with intellectual disabilities and general education students. Head Coach Ellen Larsen says she was unsure how things would go, but has loved the first practices.
“I didn’t know what to expect, so seeing the joy in their eyes and the caring and the clapping… it’s priceless what happens here,” Larsen said.
The team gives intellectually disabled students the opportunity to interact with peer they might not see during the day while experiencing a team atmosphere. For competitive bowler Brian Worrelo, the team is a way to share his love of bowling.
“They just fill my heart and fill my eyes with everything that they do and how far they came along with this,” Worrelo said. “I love it.”
The Panthers team started practice last Monday and have their first tournament next Tuesday. There are 46 unified bowling teams across the state that are sorted into districts and can compete at the state tournament in Lincoln. While there is competition, Larsen has been most impressed by her team’s sportsmanship.
“High fiving, encouraging other teammates when we get a gutter ball because sometimes that happens more than not. What do we say next? Next time, shake it off, those types of things,” Larsen said.
The team’s first tournament will be where they practice, King’s Lanes in Norfolk, and with the arrival of their jerseys, Larsen and her team can’t wait.
“Not only are they acting as a team now, but they’re looking like a team,” Larsen said. “With those jerseys and our black slacks and that first tournament. I am anticipating such excitement.”
Worrelo is just looking to cheer on his teammates and have more fun.
“I’m pretty happy when I see them get a strike,” Worrelo said. They just smile about it and they just have fun.”