In the seconds following one of Andrew Neal’s impressive spares during Saturday’s Special Olympics Area 23 bowling tournament hosted by Plymouth’s Plaza Lanes, it was difficult to gauge whose smile was bigger: Neal’s or the one creasing the face of Livonia Churchill football player and event volunteer Michael Bell.
Bell was one of 20 Churchill students dedicating seven hours of their Saturday to assist, encourage and bond with Special Olympians from Wyandotte’s Lincoln Center, a school for individuals from the ages of 5 to 26 living with autism and/or social and emotional impairments.
“It’s amazing just seeing all the smiles on the faces of the Special Olympics athletes and being able to help them enjoy the experience,” said Bell, a junior at Churchill. “To see how these athletes with disabilities come out here and do what they love while overcoming their challenges, it’s a neat experience.”
Amazing experience for volunteers and Olympians
First-time event volunteer Zachary Reid said he found a comfort level immediately after meeting the athletes he’d be working alongside.
“Right away the athletes approached me and introduced themselves,” Reid said. “It was really neat to be able to interact with these special athletes. I’ll definitely be volunteering for more events like this.”
Churchill athletes have volunteered at the Special Olympics bowling state qualifier for at least 10 years, said Chargers Head Football Coach Allen Feigel, whose wife Lauren is the principal at the Lincoln Center.
“I’ve always been a big believer in serving and giving back to the community,” said Feigel, a longtime assistant coach and educator in Livonia who was named the Chargers’ new head coach following the 2022 season.
“Events like this give the boys a different perspective on things. Sometimes, teenagers think they have it tough. When they come out here and see some of the challenges other people are facing, it gives them an opportunity to see things in a different light.”
Olympians love being ‘part of a team’
Special Olympian Bryan Howard, a student at the Lincoln Center, said his favorite part of the tournament is, “getting strikes” — something he does frequently as his personal high game of 200 confirms.
“Bryan loves this,” said his mom, Danyelle Howard. “He loves feeling part of the team. And events like this give these special individuals a chance to experience some normalcy, getting to hang out with the football players.”
Lauren Feigel said Saturday’s tournament generated the highest-participation rate ever (25) for athletes who attend her school.
“It’s great that the football players are here to cheer the athletes on, support them and give them high-fives,” Lauren Feigel said. “I love how they bond so quickly.”
Win or lose, event is rewarding
A percentage of the top bowlers at Saturday’s tournament will advance to the Michigan Special Olympics state tournament set for May in Mount Pleasant.
Judging by the positivity that flowed through Plaza Lanes on Saturday, advancing to the next round would simply be icing on an already fulfilling cake.
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