Friday, November 25, 2011/lk
Bowling can be a bit tricky with a bullet-proof vest, a gun belt, a radio, handcuffs and a taser getting in the way. But despite the hang-ups, City of Hood River Police Officer Mike Martin steps up, grabs his ball, tosses a bullet down the lane and picks up a spare.
And the crowd goes wild.
It was a small crowd, but the excitement was through the roof nonetheless.
Martin and about a handful of other Hood River police officers joined forces Tuesday afternoon at the annual Bowling with the Cops fundraiser at Orchard Lanes Bowling Alley. The event pairs Hood River's men in blue with athletes from the Hood River Special Olympics bowling team for a day of friendly competition on the lanes.
"It's our biggest fundraiser of the year," said HRSO assistant coach Anna Schwebke. "The participants look forward to it all year, and they get really excited to be able to spend an afternoon with our police officers."
Schwebke said this year, with the help of local businesses and donors, the event raised about $3,000 for the program.
"People have continued to support the program, which really makes a difference for these athletes," she said. "For many, participating in Special Olympics is the only opportunity they have to get out, interact with friends and do something active. It really means a lot to them."
The team is currently near the end of bowling season and will soon move on to ski season for the winter. For the four who took home medals earlier this week at a regional contest (Clayton Evans, Kelly Fork, Mariah Langer and John Owre), the bowling season is extended until the state tournament in Portland.
"We had about 25 participants on the bowling team this year," Schwebke said. "Athletes can choose to participate in a variety of sports throughout the year, but they are only allowed to compete at regionals and state in two sports."
She said bocce ball was added to the list of sports this year, and it has already gained quite a bit of interest from local participants.
"It's kind of like bowling, but it's outside, which they really like."
The HRSO program is run entirely by volunteers, and Schwebke, an assistant coach, said the program is always in need of extra help.
For example, rules state that one coach is needed for every four Special Olympic participants. This year, unless coaches step forward, there will either be no ski team or numbers will be restricted to stay within the 1:4 ratio.
"We're always in need of volunteers," Schwebke said. "From bowling and golf to swimming, skiing, track and field and bocce ball, there's a variety of opportunities, and with only one practice a week, it's really not that much of a time commitment. The program is really important to the athletes.
"We're also looking for some younger athletes," she said. "Many of the ones now have been participating for a long time and they're getting older. I know there are people out there who could really benefit from the program, and we encourage them, or their parents, to contact us."
For more information or to volunteer, head coach Jerry Rector can be reached at 541-352-7640 and Schwebke can be reached at 541-806-0719.