Laura Sanders admits she didn’t have much experience bowling. But when Lisa Hughey, coordinator for the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department’s Special Olympics program, asked Sanders to serve as the program’s bowling coach, Sanders didn’t hesitate to step up to the challenge.
“I’ve never bowled. But I’d been involved with Special Olympics for a couple of years at that point, and I know they provide their coaches with training,” she said. “It was very brief, focusing on coaching special needs athletes, but it was helpful. And I just took it from there.”
That was three years ago, and Sanders admits the people she has coached have done “pretty well” at the state Special Olympics games. But she says she was still surprised when officials told her recently she had been chosen as the bowling coach for the state team that will attend the national Special Olympics in June in Princeton, N.J.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m very honored,” she said.
Sanders first got involved with Special Olympics five years ago.
“I’d been working with Lisa Hughey in the summer for the special needs kids camp, and she asked me if it was something I’d be interested in doing,” she said.
Sanders works with about 30 bowlers locally.
“We go every August (to the state games). We’ll be going to Warner Robins this year,” she said. “And we practice throughout the summer. They love bowling, and they love the competition because we get to leave town and they get to stay in a hotel and meet other athletes.”
Local and state Special Olympics organizations pick up all the costs for the traveling athletes.
One of the athletes who Sanders will be coaching in Princeton is from here in Whitfield County. Mackenzie Green found out she was chosen for the national competition last year.
“I was really excited when I found out Laura would be going,” she said.
Mackenzie will compete in three different contests. She’ll bowl by herself, and then one game with her mother, Diane, as a unified team. And the two of them will bowl as part of a four-person team with another special needs athlete and partner from Georgia.
“I think it will really help us having her (Laura) there,” said Diane Green.
The Greens and Sanders have been practicing once every other week or so for the past couple of months. Sanders says the practices are to polish their skills and to build their stamina.
“We’ve been getting some help on their skills from Pat Massengill (a local competitive bowler), and as we get closer to the games, we’ll start practicing every week,” Sanders said.
During the games, Sanders won’t be allowed on the floor to give the athletes any instructions. She’ll be sitting, or more likely standing in the audience.
“I’ll be cheering them on, trying to give them encouragement. Maybe I’ll try to give them some hand signals,” she said. “But we have always been very fortunate. The Special Olympics always has a lot of volunteers. There will be volunteers on each lane to help if there are any problems and to keep things moving.”
Diane Green says she’s happy that Sanders will be going to the games with them.
“I don’t know what to expect. I’m sure we’ll have a great time, and I’m glad she’ll be there to enjoy it with us,” she said.