01/31/11 — Special Olympics bowling facing new funding shortage

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Special Olympics bowling facing new funding shortage

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 31, 2011 1:46 PM

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Heather Pardue, an athlete with Special Olympics Wayne County who is attending the World Games in Greece this summer, practices her bowling technique. Local volunteers say exponentially increasing interest in the Special Olympics athletic programs -- especially bowling -- has caused a funding shortage that could threaten to curtail the program.

A county program that has brought competition and joy to a large number of Wayne County Special Olympics athletes is facing a budget crisis -- and local volunteers hope the community will help keep the balls rolling.

Flo Tanner has been a proponent of Special Olympics Wayne County since the mid-'80s when her late sister, Beverly, an athlete in the program, moved here.

Bowling was her sister's favorite event, Mrs. Tanner said. And she was not alone.

The program started out with 53 adults.

"They loved it. They absolutely loved it, and it's grown now to over 400," she said.

"When they started, it was a one-day event. This year it was six days," added Don Jenkins, whose son, Alan, has also been a long-time participant in the program.

In fact, ask any of athletes their favorite activity -- the program also offers basketball, swimming, golf, track and field and equestrian events -- and bowling comes up the No. 1 answer.

"Ninety-five percent will tell you bowling and the next will be track and field," Jenkins said.

One reason for its popularity is that the sport promotes camaraderie in an intimate setting.

"They're all together right there, and they can congratulate each other," Mrs. Tanner said. "The first time they did it, it was amazing to watch them, they were just so excited."

The bowling program is now offered from age 8 to adult. With the expansion has come a dominant number of younger participants.

"I would say we have close to 250 school-age kids and the other 150-175 are adults," Jenkins said. "Initially it was just adults. They have to get practice scores so we can division them. As it's grown, the bowling alley here doesn't have but 24 lanes, so you're talking about 100 people is the most that actually bowl at one time.

"We broke it down this year to only four days a week. It's going to have to go to six next year."

All of which also adds up to one very glaring realization -- the need for funding.

"It's costing us so much more money than the other games," Mrs. Tanner said.

"We might have to downsize," Jenkins said.

"But that's going to break their hearts," Mrs. Tanner said.

Jenkins estimated that bowling alone costs approximately $9,000 a year. The annual budget for Special Olympics this year was $40,000.

"That covers track and field, aquatics, equestrian, golf, basketball, cycling, weights, and we have just added a cheerleading program," he said.

Special Olympics Wayne County is a non-profit organization and receives no funding from local government or the United Way. Even its coordinators, Rich and Debbie Walderman, who have served for the past five years, are not paid.

Fortunately, there have been faithful volunteers and organizations that support the effort.

But now it's crunch time, Mrs. Tanner said.

"We have tried everything," she said. "What we need is sponsors to be able to sponsor, let's say, bowling."

"Or just pick up a sport," Jenkins said.

"Right now I'm picking bowling because it's so big and so important to the athletes," Mrs. Tanner said. "Plus, I started it and Beverly's name is still there."

"When Flo kind of eased herself to the side a few years ago when her husband died, when Rich and Debbie Walderman took over, it's just gone through the roof," Jenkins said. "They have done an awesome job. The whole program has just grown -- we just got two kids qualify for the nationals in March (in bowling), Alan Jenkins and Emily Crawford, and Heather Pardue is going to the World Games in Greece this summer.

"We're at a point we have just outgrown our money."

Other counties in the state receive financial support through county agencies or the Parks and Recreation Departments, with many having paid coordinators. Wayne County has not had such funding streams, though.

There have been some ongoing benefactors who have been faithful, Jenkins said, among them Mt. Olive Pickle Company and the annual Physicians Christmas Fund through Wayne Memorial Hospital.

From time to time, Mrs. Tanner said she has been approached by residents saying they sent a donation to Special Olympics, presuming it benefits the local program.

"People don't understand, it's not coming to us but it's the state," she explained. "We don't make calls (soliciting). If you want to give to Special Olympics in Wayne County, we don't call you, you can get in touch with us."

"If you do not specify Wayne County, it probably won't get to us," Jenkins said, adding, "We're not just telling you, though, that we need money. We need people just as bad as we need money."

The all-volunteer group that keeps the program working could always use additional hands.

Fortunately, he noted, as the program has grown in popularity and participation, so has community acceptance. A few years ago, when lack of funding threatened to prevent distribution of T-shirts to each of the athletes, publicity elicited overwhelming support for the effort.

Hopefully, that will be the case now.

"At our last meeting, we seriously considered cutting back and I just pray that doesn't happen," said Jenkins, hinting at the possibility that the bowling program might alternate every other year to alleviate some of the economic crunch.

"But how do you tell them?" Mrs. Tanner said.

For more information or to volunteer, call Mrs. Tanner at 581-8661, Jenkins at 922-1653 or Walderman at 734-7023. Donations can be mailed to Rich Walderman, 2102 Granville Drive, Goldsboro, NC 27530.