Bowlers roll with the fun for Special Olympics

At Play

From strikes to gutter balls, everyone wins in a event scored in smiles

May 02, 2007|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

As director of Saturday's Special Olympics bowling tournament at The Lanes - Fort Meade, Dottie Sheldon was everywhere.

Answering questions. Talking to people. Solving problems. Congratulating and encouraging bowlers.

"I just loved it," the Crofton resident said.

The Prince George's County Invitational took up all 36 lanes for six hours. It brought together about 125 bowlers with mental and physical disabilities, plus 40 volunteers and numerous fans and family members.

"An event like this is another example of how bowling is a sport for all ages and skill levels," said Stacy Karten, an Owings Mills-based bowling industry consultant. "Everyone can play and enjoy the game."

Most volunteers had a family connection to a bowler. Sheldon was an exception. Now in her ninth year as tournament director, Sheldon fell into the job by accident. Then an employee of the Crofton Bowling Center, she was asked to take over the tournament when the previous director got sick. She's been doing it ever since.

"I hadn't [planned on] getting involved with the Special Olympics, but once I started, that was all she wrote," Sheldon said. "I just have such a good time."

She's also risen throughout the Special Olympics ranks. She's now the Prince George's County management team's tenpin coordinator and serves on the Maryland team for the state games.

Sheldon's 32-year-old son, Brant, won a gold medal Saturday with Terry Neveleff in the unified division, which teams up one Special Olympics athlete with a partner who's not mentally or physically challenged.

An office manager for a shipping broker in Washington by day, Sheldon does a lot of work to ensure the Special Olympics bowlers are treated fairly. She collects donated trophies and recruits parents to help revamp them for participants.

Jerry Neveleff is a seven-year veteran of this event, which serves as a qualifier for the Maryland Special Olympics state tournament in Baltimore County. The older brother of Terry Neveleff, he was stationed in the 11th Frame Lounge to help register bowlers and audit scores. Terry Neveleff works on a cleaning crew and bowls every Tuesday and Saturday.

"If you really want to see pure innocence, you watch these people bowl," said Jerry Neveleff, a 46-year old father of four in Crofton. "The simplest things make them happy."

Another Special Olympian threw a gutter ball, the type of thing that might prompt someone on a weeknight league to throw a tantrum or kick the ball return rack. Instead, he smiled and clapped his hands. It was a reaction repeated many times throughout the day.

"It's nice to see a smile on someone's face when they bowl," said volunteer Fred Miller, Terry Neveleff's nephew. "Especially my uncle."

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