KINGSTON, N.Y. — Patel’s Kingston Lanes was abuzz with activity Wednesday afternoon as more than 200 athletes from 10 school districts in Ulster and Dutchess counties competed in the Section 9 Unified Bowling Championship.
High school athletes who receive special education services teamed up with fellow students called partners in head-to-head competition against other school districts that was as intense as any of the other scholastic sports available to high school athletes.
Kingston School District Athletic Director Rich Silverstein, who is the Section 9 Unified chairperson for both bowling and basketball, said the Unified program is in its fourth year in Section 9. New York state has been running it for about 10 years, Silverstein said.
The Unified bowling program is becoming more popular, according to Silverstein.
“Last year, we had six schools and this year we have 10 schools,” Silverstein said. “Last year, we used half of the bowling center and this year we filled up the entire bowling center of 40 lanes. So obviously the program is growing very quickly and we’re still in the infancy stages. Unified basketball has also been growing in leaps and bounds. We’re up to 22
Senior Damari Lewis, one of the special needs athletes who is the captain of the Kingston and Mount Academy combined bowling team, said he enjoyed being part of the team. But he made it clear that he was focused on accomplishing one goal in the Section 9 Championship.
“Beating Newburgh,” he said. “It’s fun being with my teammates, which I’ve had a lot of over the years. My high game is a 166.”
Lewis’ team fell short of achieving his goal on Wednesday as Newburgh Free Academy claimed the Section 9 title with a team total of 2,563 pins. Kingston/Mount Academy finished second (2,398) and New Paltz was third (2,326).
Other school districts in Section 9 that competed Wednesday were Rondout Valley, Pine Bush, Poughkeepsie, Cornwall and Beacon. Section 1 schools Arlington and Wappingers (two school districts) competed in the event because their section doesn’t have Unified bowling.
Danielle Manley, who has been a Unified sports coach at Kingston since 2018 and is a special education/social studies teacher at Kingston High, said there were 28 bowlers
representing the Kingston-Mount Academy squad at the Section 9 Championship. During Wednesday’s competition, the scores were split evenly between the special education bowlers and their partners.
“We’ve done incredibly well during the season,” Manley said. “We have an amazing group of students who are talented athletes and incredible individuals. Every student on the team
has improved their bowling capability. Some students had never bowled before they started this program and some students participate in leagues during the weekend and they’re more experienced.”
Manley said the more experienced bowlers have really helped novice bowlers improve with tips about the sport. Unified bowling is very competitive, Manley added.
“The students themselves keep track of their scores and they want to beat their scores,” she said. “They want to improve.”
Kingston High junior Danielle Denu said she enjoyed working as a partner for the bowling program for the last two years.
“I like bowling, but I enjoy playing with the kids,” she said. “They’re friendly and it’s fun to watch. They appreciate the help.”
Rondout Valley coach Ira Bickoff, who is a science teacher at the high school, is just finishing his first year coaching Unified bowling. He has coached Unified basketball for three years.
“The thing I like is I get a lot of my kids at the high school involved as partners,” Bickoff said. “My favorite part is that the partners might not even know some of the (special education) players personally in the school, but everyone gets along and then they become friends throughout the school year.
“I think that’s what I enjoy most about the Unified sports. It’s unifying kids.”
Rondout Valley had a total of 10 partners and nine players with special needs on the bowling team. Rondout Valley senior Tori DeGraw, who is hoping to gain admission to the U.S. Military Academy following graduation, said it was gratifying working as a partner this season.
“It’s a great way to give back a little to the community and meet some new kids in my school that otherwise I wouldn’t get to see too much,” she said.