Walk along the lanes at Bill White's Akron Lanes during a Springfield bowling match and you'll see dozens of bowlers steering their balls down the lane, seeking strikes and spares. Each one is there to compete and enjoy the experience, but for Mikayla Kurylo and Griffin Strickler, being a part of the action means a little more.
Walk along the lanes at Bill White's Akron Lanes during a Springfield bowling match and you'll see dozens of bowlers steering their balls down the lane, seeking strikes and spares.
Each one is there to compete and enjoy the experience, but for Mikayla Kurylo and Griffin Strickler, being a part of the action means a little more.
Kurylo and Strickler are autistic. They are a part of the special education program at Springfield and for both students, bowling is a way to connect with their peers and improve their social skills.
"They get to know some of the kids on the bowling team and they'll see them in the hallways at school and the kids will say hi to them," said Lisa Moretz, a special education teacher at Springfield High School. "A lot of times kids with disabilities are secluded a lot, so it helps make friendships and all the girls do wonderful with Mikayla."
Griffin's mother, Heather Smith, has seen a noticeable change in her son since he became part of the team.
"It increased his social skills with the other boys. He makes eye contact with them and high-fives them when he does well," Smith said, noting that many of Griffin's teammates go out of their way to encourage him during matches and when they see him outside school.
For Kurylo, her daily routine of school and bowling helps keep her focused. When school was called off due to weather but the team still had a match, she had trouble adjusting to the altered schedule and wasn't sure what she was supposed to do.
While she is in the special education program, Kurylo takes some general classes and according to her grandfather, Bob Haren, bowling has helped Kurylo make friends and build connections with her teammates.
Haren shared a story about how much bowling has come to mean to his granddaughter, who is often content to stay home and hang out rather than venture out into the world.
"A lot of times we have a hard time getting her to do stuff, but she woke her mom up one night at midnight to make sure they were going bowling the next day."
Strickler has also benefitted greatly from being a part of the junior varsity boys team. He has found common ground with his peers, some of whom might be hesitant to approach an autistic student.
Smith noted that although her son was in the high school building for two years prior to this year because he was a part of the special education program, this is the first time Griffin has been able to really reach out and connect.
"This gave him an opportunity to interact with boys his age, which has never happened before. Kids don't traditionally seek him out to hang out," Smith said.
On the lanes, Kurylo and Strickler mostly blend in with their teammates. Occasionally, someone will need to remind them that it's their turn, but they are in the middle of team huddles and stand alongside their teammates during the national anthem prior to every match.
Kurylo does stand out from other bowlers in one way: her technique for rolling the ball down the lane.
"She rolls it between her legs (underhand) and she's the only one that does that," Haren said with a smile. "She's pretty accurate with it."
Neither Kurylo nor Strickler are posting record-breaking scores or leading their respective teams in scoring average, but the value each derives from being able to play a sport and be a part of a team goes beyond any pin total.