Tamyrah Anderson, 8, didn’t wait for the pins to reset before grabbing another bowling ball.
Any bowling ball would do.
The second-grader rested a hand on her hip as the ball rolled away. Then she burst into the air, her braided hair spinning like a helicopter as the remaining pins crashed down.
The Case Elementary special education student liked bowling so much, she told her teacher, “I’m gonna tell my grandma to bring me back.”
Tamyrah and 300 Akron special-needs students will flood Riviera Lanes in Fairlawn this week for the 18th annual Akron Public Schools Special Education Bowling Tournament. The bowling alley donates the space, the district provides pizza and drinks, and the Musson Foundation sponsors the event, one of many that APS provides for special-needs students.
Over the course of the school year, some 400 students in the community-based recreation class will venture outside the classroom. It’s part of an award-winning program created in 1989 by two Akron schools employees, physical therapist Nancy Roberts and physical education specialist Shelley Mallue.
From nature hikes in Summit Metro Parks to golf outings at Edwin Shaw Challenge Golf Course, students make connections to the community and build confidence, self-esteem and independence.
A program at the University of Akron pairs physical education majors with special-needs children, who even get an aquatic lesson in tennis. The program imparts learning on students and leaves indelible impressions on college undergraduates.
Dan Heideman coordinates Akron schools’ programming for students with autism and other special needs. If he, too, hadn’t been touched by a special-needs student, the bowling tournament probably wouldn’t exist.
In college, Heideman wanted to be a physical education teacher. When a college adviser asked him to work with a second-grade girl with cerebral palsy, his life’s mission took an empathetic turn.
“It just changed my whole life. I knew I wanted to work with special education,” said Heideman, who formed the bowling program 18 years ago when he started working for Akron schools. “I think that these kids help me more than I help them.”
Lori Alamin, an intervention specialist at Voris elementary, echoed the sentiment. For years, she managed patient care for a Cleveland hospital and later worked at a day-care center in Fairlawn.
Alamin said she found her calling this year, her first working with special-needs children.
“Oh, my God,” she said, surrounded by her students at the bowling alley Wednesday. “It’s kind of brought out the best in me ... I should have done this straight out of college.”
Alamin finds that her patience grows the more she works with her students. She gets as much as she gives.
“It’s good to help them achieve their goals,” she said, astounded by their progress in less than two months swinging a golf club or tossing a bowling ball. “I see them do something amazing every day.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.