PASSAIC COUNTY BOWLERS COMPETE IN SPECIAL OLYMPICS
Record - 2/7/2018
It was a tense moment as Robert Lockwood, 9, of West Milford stepped up to bowl his final frame Sunday at the T-Bowl II lanes in Wayne:
Could he recover from his previous gutter ball and score enough points for a gold or silver medal?
The ball rolled slowly, slowly down the lane, knocking down nine pins and giving Robert the second-place win he needed to advance to the next round of competition. "Awesome!" was how he described that winning feeling.
Win or lose, there were plenty of high fives and hugs to spare for the 170 bowlers competing in the Passaic County Special Olympics tournament.
The athletes ranged in age from 8 to over 70, with newbies like Robert and Special Olympics stars like Denise Navarro, 48, of Hawthorne, who has represented New Jersey in the U.S. and World Special Olympics multiple times, competing in 12 divisions.
Bowlers who placed first or second in their division won a chance to compete in the regional North Jersey tournament in Jersey City in March.
The bowlers were vying for individual medals, but most had their team T-shirts on. Supporters and coaches also were dressed to show their support.
Parents of athletes from the West Milford Special Olympics team were wearing black T-shirts with white and gold lettering on the back with this message: "Some people dream of meeting their favorite athlete. I raised mine."
Special Olympics is celebrating its 50th anniversary in New Jersey and across the nation this year. The organization hosts events for some 25,000 New Jersey athletes with disabilities each year.
On Sunday, all 34 lanes at the bowling alley were in use, and the viewing areas were jampacked with spectators, coaches and fans, many of whom were filming the action on their cellphones.
Claire Lockwood, Robert's mother, said being part of a Special Olympics team in West Milford has helped her son "find his love for sports."
Robert, who receives special education services at school, had previously tried participating in regular education sports programs, "but he doesn't really fit into those," she said.
On the Special Olympics team, "there's no peer pressure to be a certain way," she said. "This is such a great self-esteem boost for these kids."
Christopher Alburquerque, one of the coaches with the team from Paterson'sStars Academy high school, was watching as his students cheered each other on, and cheered each other up after a bad roll.
"Their hearts -- they amaze me, the way they help each other," he said.
Carla Rodriguez, a coach for the Special Olympians at Clifton'sWoodrow Wilson Middle School, was at the event to root on the Wilson athletes and Special Olympians from Clifton High School. On Monday, a number of the Clifton athletes competed again, in winter sports such as snowshoeing, skiing and snowboarding, in the Special Olympics Winter Games at the Mountain Creek resort in Vernon.
Events like the Sunday bowling tournament teach important lessons, Rodriguez said. "It's an opportunity for socialization, and they are learning about sportsmanship," she said.
One of the team's best bowlers was having a bad game, she said, and he was learning to accept that.
"It happens," she said. "Not everyone will get a gold medal."