Special Olympics bowlers thrive under volunteer coaches

ARLINGTON — The first fall windstorm blew Joey Vidal off the street and into Rocket Alley.

“It’s cold outside,” said Joey, a young man with special needs. “Time to bowl.”

Joey, 31, is part of a Special Olympics bowling team called “Wrecker Alley.” It meets each Saturday in September and October at the downtown Arlington bowling alley and restaurant. The team includes young people from Darrington, Arlington and Snohomish.

Tom and Karen Barkholz, of Darrington, started the team five years ago, in part to keep their own two special needs kids active.

Anna Barkholz is 17 and a student at Darrington High School. Her brother, Stephen Barkholz, 23, is a fourth-year Everett Community College student who has a retail job.

Stephen is an accomplished bowler. Despite any handicaps, Stephen bowls strikes easily. He enjoys working with his teammates and his sister, who is still refining her style.

Their friend, Maria Arnold, 32, catches a ride to bowling with the Barkholz family. Maria claims she isn’t a huge bowling fan, but she’s good.

Joey is perfecting his launch, which he makes from between his legs. Whether he bowls a gutter ball or a spare, Joey walks back to his seat with a smile on his face.

Bowling is good exercise, but it’s also a social event with lots of encouragement.

“Nobody wins. Nobody loses,” Joey said. “But I want to get a strike, because I will get $1.”

Tom Barkholz gives Joey a high-five.

Carol Vidal, Joey’s mother, praises Karen and Tom Barkholz for their volunteer dedication to the Special Olympics bowling team. By the end of the month, they plan to have the team assembled for bowling at a regional Special Olympics event in Mount Vernon.

“The Barkholzes are great coaches and fabulous people,” Carol Vidal said. “They are very giving of their time, care and energy.”

Now in their mid-50s, the Barkholzes hope to keep coaching bowling as long as they can.

They also want to involve other Special Olympics participants.

“Many people don’t know that it’s free and open to anybody with intellectual disabilities from age 8 and up,” Tom Barkholz said. “We would really like to have a bigger team.”

Elizabeth Harwood, 13, is the youngest member of the team and its newest. The Barkholzes coach her on her launch, helping her to make a straight pitch.

The commitment to the bowling team takes a lot of time, especially considering the weekly drive from Darrington, Karen Barkholz said.

“But when I see one of them get a strike,” she said,” and they shoot me that smile, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Steve Saunders, owner of Rocket Alley, allows the team to bowl for free on Saturday mornings. The Barkholzes praised him for his generosity.

“He makes a big to-do about it and is wonderful to the team,” Karen Barkholz said.

Sure enough, Saunders showed up on this particular Saturday to fix some equipment in one of the bowling lanes. He greeted all the bowlers and teased them a little while they smiled and gladly shook his hand.

“Tom and Karen are great people,” Saunders said. ” I wanted to help them out for all they do for these kids.”

For more information about the Arlington-Darrington Special Olympics bowling team, call the Barkholz family at 360-436-1127.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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