04/26/11 — Wayne Special Olympian bowlers reach nationals

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Wayne Special Olympian bowlers reach nationals

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 26, 2011 1:46 PM

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Emily Crawford, left, and Alan Jenkins bowl in tandem during a practice round at Boulevard Lanes. The duo -- he with Special Olympics Wayne County, she a volunteer who became his partner -- competed at the national competition in Reno, Nev., recently. Special Olympics introduced Project Unity this year, pairing a Special Olympian with a non-Special Olympics athlete.

Special Olympics Wayne County has had its first unified bowling team attend a national competition.

For years, the organization has operated an impressive program that prepares athletes to compete locally right up to state, national and worldwide events.

This year, the national program changed slightly, expanding the way participants are chosen.

"Special Olympics USA has come out with a new project, Project Unify, to get the high school kids and the schools and athletes more involved in Special Olympics," said Don Jenkins, whose son Alan is a local athlete.

Alan was eligible for the national bowling contest, but needed a non-Special Olympian to participate under unified team guidelines.

Fortunately, one was ready and willing to pair up with him.

Emily Crawford became a volunteer in the Special Olympics program while a student at Eastern Wayne High School. Now a freshman at Wayne Community College, she and Alan met two years ago.

"I went probably almost every Thursday to go bowl when they'd go bowl at the bowling alley," she said.

The two hit it off right away, so asking Emily to take part in the national event was a natural fit. Alan even coined a name to describe their pairing -- "Beauty and the Beast."

"The best way to describe these two, they're just like brother and sister," Don Jenkins said. "They fight, they fuss, they get it done. He aggravates her, she pushes back."

Alan is the big brother, the 25-year-old pointed out with a smile. Emily, 19, conceded.

They are pretty evenly matched when it comes to knocking over pins, though. Alan's average is 96, hers is 95. They had to produce 15 games' worth of scores turned in to qualify for nationals.

The rest, though, was the luck of the draw.

"Four people were selected from North Carolina to go," Jenkins said. "This team and two other (members) from Lincolnton. They took the gold medal winners and drew names out of a hat."

Alan and Emily were among 384 athletes competing at the contest in Reno, Nev.

At first glance, it was an impressive arena -- the bowling alley had 78 lanes and a pro shop bigger than the bowling alley where the group usually practices, Jenkins said.

They did quite well on the first day, when each state's four-person team bowled.

"The first day, Emily had 128, 97 and 111," he recalled. "Alan bowled 137, 88 and 109, so still over their average."

They didn't fare quite as well the following day, though, when the doubles events took place. Out of six teams competing, Alan and Emily came in fifth place.

What Jenkins will most remember about the trip, though, was not the expansive lanes or the fact that his son made it to another big competition opportunity. It was what he witnessed in the aftermath of them not winning the event.

"What I was impressed with was they didn't either one get mad," he said. "They were good sports about it."

"The other teams were really supportive," Emily pointed out. "Everyone cheered each other on. It was amazing, really indescribable."

Her favorite part, she said, was meeting their teammates from across the state, marveling at how well they meshed and got along.

"I never thought anybody could do anything like that," she said.

"I don't think they worried about winning," Jenkins said. "We talked about that before we left. We were going to have a good time."

Alan said he kept a very simple reminder in his head, the latter part of the Special Olympics motto -- "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

"That kept me on the positive side," Alan said. "The second day, that's when it hit me -- I'm just here to have fun."

Ultimately, winning was not about a trophy. Alan already has plenty of those in his room at home, his dad said.

Rather, the teammates said, it was all about the experience.

"We got pins when we went to the corporate office in Raleigh," Alan said. "We had Special Olympics pins to trade with other Olympians. Each of us had 10."

They returned with 10 different pins traded from their comrades from across the U.S. And plenty of good memories, they agreed.

Now, it's on to the next competition. For Alan that will be participating in the state games in Raleigh in June, where he plans to enter four events in swimming. Eleven other local athletes are also going, he noted.

And Emily is working toward creating a cheerleading squad, which she'll coach.