At the start of this year’s Unified Bowling season, things were looking uncertain for MN. A majority of the team’s bowlers were new to the sport, a departure from previous years, when the team had many seasoned bowlers. Additionally, the added factor of the COVID-19 pandemic had thrown a wrench into plans.
However, despite these starting hurdles, Unified Bowling coach Tricia Rohde says that this season has been one to remember.
“Last year, during the pandemic, we were only allowed to have 20players on the team. This year, we had 40 and I think that these players have really helped us achieve our goals. So far, I think the highlight of the season was winning the Millard Cup for the sixth year in a row,” Rohde said.
While they have been extremely successful in competition, Rohde says the real achievements are the bonds formed between students throughout the season, especially those between special education and general education students.
“I think that the general education students really see that special education students are just like them; they share their interests. The special education students really look up to the general education students. For the special education students, having those friendships means everything to them. They are memories they will always remember,” she said.
These bonds are the real rewards of being on the team. Rohde attributes the connections between the students and the relaxed dynamics of their team to their great success in competition.
“We don’t focus on winning. We like to win, but we focus on building relationships. We do some fun things, like for the Millard Cup, if they won, they got to choose my hair color,” said Rohde.
One of the team’s four captains, Coleton Pleiss excitedly reminisces on this team tradition.
“It’s a thing that she does every year. It’s mainly just motivation and drives us to do better,” said Pleiss. “This year, we chose a bluish-purple and we loved it. It was really fun.”
This encouraging team dynamic has not only led to victory on the bowling lanes, but it has also led to improved academic performance and effort from the students on the team.
“We tell them that we are looking for an overall player, who has good character, is respectful, has grades above a five, and is a good bowler. We celebrate any positive academic achievements at the start of every practice and I think that students want to be on the list, so they work harder,” Rohde said.
As the state competition looms nearer, the team looks forward, united and prepared.
“I look forward to districts and state. I feel like this is our year to win state. Some of our state bowlers had to quarantine last year,” Pleiss said. “In the years to come, I hope our team will get bigger. I want bowlers who want to try it but are nervous to try it. I want them to have something they’re proud of.”
Rohde and the team captains encourage anyone and everyone to join Unified Bowling. It is a great opportunity for general and special education students alike to make new friends and form relationships, as well as to advocate for the rights of disabled students, who are overlooked far too often.
“I want bowlers who want to try it but are nervous to try it. I want them to have something they’re proud of. The main thing is we want people to know not to be scared. Join Unified Bowling. We will still celebrate you,” Rohde said.