On November 18, the Kansas State High School Activities Association hosted the Unified Bowling Inaugural State Championship. The 15 teams that competed, their families, KSHSAA and Special Olympics officials that took part made the event one that should be added to Kansas’ list of sporting firsts.
Two factors made this event so special. First, as the program’s opening statement detailed, unified bowling combines “an approximately equal number of Special Olympic students with intellectual disabilities and students without intellectual disabilities on teams for competition and inclusive activities fostering an environment of social inclusion.”
The second factor is that as the 15th sport certified by KSHSAA, these high school students had the opportunity to receive individual medals and the emblematic KSHSAA trophy for the first three teams. You could feel the pride over that fact from the minute you entered Mission Bowl in Olathe. Everyone greeted each other warmly with conversations over the championship’s importance. Event shirts and gear honoring the inaugural event sold quickly. The 70 bowlers recognized the significance as each team was introduced, and every bowler heard their name.
Following the opening ceremonies, the teams, each using two lanes, began making rapid progress through the six games that led to the eventual top finishers. Since this was a team activity, the support of teammates heightened the joys over strikes and spares while also easing the disappointment of a gutter ball. Behind them, in the tight confines found inside any bowling center, parents, grandparents and team supporters squeezed into every available space to cheer on the boys and girls and take every possible photograph and video with their phones.
Whether the bowling ball was sent rolling down the lane with one hand, two hands, between the legs or pushed down a ramp, once the ball headed towards the pins at the end of the 60-foot-lane, any thought of “disabilities” disappeared. These were bowlers trying to knock down as many pins as possible. That remarkable realization is what ultimately united everyone in attendance with ultimate pride over each school and its bowlers.
After Topeka Seaman and Olathe East received their second and third place awards, Goddard/Eisenhower accepted the championship trophy with the usual joyful high-fives, hugs and tears from the spectators. Every team lingered for the ceremony and more pictures than usual. The bowlers, coaches and loved ones thoroughly enjoyed the moment no matter where their team finished.
One of the synonyms of the word “unified” perfectly described the afternoon.
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About Jeff Jacobsen
Jeff Jacobsen has photographed practically every big event the sports world has to offer during a professional career that spans over 53 years. Jacobsen has seen things up close that only a diehard sports fan could in their dreams. His work for the Topeka Capital-Journal, Arizona Republic, Kansas Athletics, Inc., many national publications and now Action Images Photography, Inc., cemented his reputation as one of the nation’s finest sports photographers.