FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - Heidi Fisher cries when she talks about her bowling team at Moorhead, Minn. She's been the coach of the adapted bowling team for the Spuds since the program began two years ago.
The tears come from thinking about people like Katie Cragg, who said she had never waved and said good luck to a bus with her son Mitchell on it until he joined the team. Katie estimates she or her husband are with Mitchell 90 percent of the time. Mitchell is a seventh-grader and has a chromosomal condition called trisomy 13. He's nonverbal and has physical impairments.
That doesn't mean he couldn't motion to his mom no when she mentioned maybe she should ride along on his first bus ride with the team.
"I don't even think I was able to say goodbye to him. He jumped right on the bus," Katie said. "For a parent of a child with special needs it's hard to let your child be independent because a lot of things they aren't. You have to help them get dressed or eat, so when we got this it was a great way for me to almost have to step back and let him go, which has been really cool."
Katie enjoys making the drives many would groan at to see Mitchell bowl for the Spuds.
"The newer parents are just so thrilled to see their kids participate," Fisher said. "People complain about having to drive to places like Bemidji, but she was just thrilled. She finally gets to to do that for her son. It's the most normal he's been, being just a kid. It's a whole different feeling."
Fisher's tears come from seeing sophomore Brett Solum, who bowls in the Cognitive Impairment division, wearing his brand new letterman jacket despite it being 81 degrees.
"They're on the team and they have that pride of being a Spud bowler," Fisher said.
The only sounds at Northern Aire Lanes in Fergus Falls on Tuesday, May 8, were the sounds of pins colliding with bowling balls and cheering from everyone for every single pin that fell. Former Fergus Falls athletic director Gary Schuler remembers when they first started adapted bowling in 2009 and the closest team was an hour away in Alexandria, Minn.
There was no section tournament like the one happening Tuesday. More than 40 bowlers from Frazee, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Detroit Lakes and Fergus Falls were bowling for a chance to go to the state tournament on Tuesday. Moorhead is in its third season, while Detroit Lakes is in its second season and Frazee and East Grand Forks are both in first seasons of adapted bowling.
"Giving more kids opportunities, that's a great satisfaction," Schuler said. "That was always our goal in our department. To see the smiles on their face when they get a spare or strike is incredible. Last week one of the kids got a turkey and he was doing a turkey dance. It's just the pleasure of watching what makes people have fun and be excited about things. It's different for all types of people. That's my biggest satisfaction for this. Just to see the sheer joy when they can do something and have some success."
Fergus Falls was the first in the area to start adapted bowling. It began with a parent wanting an opportunity for her child. Dakota Birch wanted to play sports. She was autistic, had cerebral palsy and was developmentally delayed. Dawn Birch talked to Schuler about finding a sport for daughter. Adapted bowling was born at Fergus Falls, and Dakota graduated with her name, letter, four bars and four pins on her letterman jacket.
Schuler retired as athletic director two years ago, but he decided to keep coaching the adapted bowling team to make sure the program continued. Sheila Hanson coached the first Fergus Falls adapted bowling team with Birch. She was helping organizing things Tuesday.
Schuler says he would be lost without her and the community. The Fergus Falls team is an independent provider, meaning the school does not sponsor the team financially, though it does pay for a bus to the bowling alley. Schuler raises money to support the program.
He wants area schools to know, with the help of a community, the sport is possible for any school.
"It's a team approach from teachers at the school to paraprofessionals to Sheila helping out and the number of people around town," Schuler said. "They have never said no. We've had lots of people helping out to keep this going. It's pretty darn good."