ERVING, MA — Hand in hand, 11-year-old Quintin Stacy and his physical education teacher Sue Scott walked up to the lane, carrying a small black-and-white bowling ball.
Glancing at the white pins with an eager smile, and with some help from Scott, Stacy let the ball roll and it whirred down the wooden floor.
For the past five weeks, bowling at the French King Bowling Center every Thursday has been something Stacy and four other special needs children have looked forward to.
According to Scott, a physical education teacher at Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, Warwick Community School and Bernardston Elementary School, the weekly bowling sessions promise fun while allowing special needs children within the Pioneer Valley Regional School District to connect with other students. Scott started the bowling sessions this year as part of the district’s Special Olympics program, which she also oversees.
“I just have a passion for making sure all students have every opportunity to do what their peers are doing,” Scott said. “They’ll be able to go back to school and talk about their after-school activity.”
Through the program, five Special Olympics athletes from Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, Bernardston Elementary School and Northfield Elementary School bowl alongside nine older “buddies” — also known as unified partners — from Pioneer Valley Regional School who volunteer their time.
“The kids get so excited to see their buddies,” Scott said. “They’ve definitely built a connection.”
The unified partners embrace their roles as buddies, but for a variety of reasons.
“I thought it would be fun to be a friend to somebody else,” said Lily Walker, 14, of Warwick.
“I just love children and love hanging out with them,” said Hannah Sliva, 15, of Northfield. “This is perfect.”
For 18-year-old Abbey Buedinger of Vernon, Vt., assisting the Special Olympics athletes will likely be the start of a career. Buedinger plans to work with special needs children.