Puget Sound Sailors volunteer at Special Olympics bowling tournament

Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Vaughan Dill, Navy Public Affairs Support Element, Det. Northwest

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SILVERDALE Wash. – More than 28 Sailors assigned to various commands around Naval Base Kitsap volunteered to assist athletes as Special Olympics Washington (SOWA) hosted it’s annual bowling tournament at All Star Lanes and Casino, Oct. 30.

The event offered another chance for Sailors stationed around Silverdale and Bremerton, Washington, to engage and experience the community, while highlighting services that SOWA brings to local families.

“We know every year when we come up here to run this program, we’re going to have an overwhelming amount of volunteers so the relationship with the Navy is wonderful, we really like having the Navy here,” said Mr. Mark Barker, program coordinator for Thurston County and Timberland area director. “You can’t imagine how much it helps us out that I don’t have to worry about having enough volunteers.”

The event ran all day and volunteers helped set-up, keep score, acted as lane helpers for all 40 lanes, entered data into computers, handed out awards and souvenirs, interacted with the athletes and helped clean up afterwards.

“I got involved in this event [through] my [Leading Petty Officer], she brought up the volunteer opportunity and told us it would be Special Olympics and for me, I just want to help with anything involving kids,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Wise, from Fresno, California. “It’s my first time helping with the Special Olympics and I hope that if anyone gets the chance to volunteer for one of these events in the future they sign up. I know they really appreciate our help.”

For some Sailors it was their first time assisting with the Special Olympics and, while others are seasoned veterans, all seemed to really enjoy the opportunity.

“I volunteered with the Special Olympics when I was stationed in Virginia, so I’ve done it before and I find it really rewarding, everyone seems to love being able to give back,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Leigh Handley, Navy Program Coordinator, who hails from Mason, West Virginia. “It’s a team effort to help the children and adults that are in need of some guidance, and if they’re lacking volunteers then as a Navy, we can come in and help them out, and they always appreciate our support.”

The Special Olympics is meant to help bring all persons with intellectual disabilities into the larger society under conditions whereby they are accepted, respected and given the chance to become useful and productive citizens.

SOWA provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic type sports for children and adults, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families and other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

“It’s a year round program, but the bowling tournament is held once a year, which ends today, and then in December we get into basketball,” said Barker. “We have four sports during the spring, which includes swimming, track, soccer and power lifting. After that we get into softball and then we kind of start the whole process all over again.

Persons with intellectual disabilities, regardless of ability level, may participate in sports and other programs offered by SOWA. Individuals are eligible for training and competition at age eight and there is no upper age limit.

“We’re bringing in a youth program, especially when these athletes can’t start until they’re eight, so we’re bringing in a program for two years old now just so we can get them going too,” said Barker. “If someone wanted to volunteer for an event, there are two ways, they can go online to SOWA.org and they could browse opportunities by area, such as Silverdale or Bremerton and find the contact person in, or they can contact Jen Palmer, the regional manager for this area at jpalmer@sowa.org.”

Training and competition is offered year round to Special Olympics athletes. Competition takes place at local, regional and state tournaments. Individuals and teams compete in divisions according to age, gender and ability.

“I’m going to try to do future events and hope to get more people involved, and maybe a few additional commands,” said Handley. “I hope to get the 1st Class Petty Officers Associations involved, so they can then filter it through their commands and on to their junior sailors.”

More than 8,000 volunteers support Special Olympics Washington activities. Volunteers serve as coaches, sports officials, committee members and on-site volunteers at competitions and fundraising events.

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