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Stars and Strikes
by Jessica Carner
Mar 04, 2011 | 2273 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/John Byrne - Suzanne Becker of Washoe County reacts to a split Thursday afternoon while competing in the Special Olympics National Unified Tournament being held at the National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno. Becker was one of 450 bowlers competing in this year’s event.
Tribune/John Byrne - Suzanne Becker of Washoe County reacts to a split Thursday afternoon while competing in the Special Olympics National Unified Tournament being held at the National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno. Becker was one of 450 bowlers competing in this year’s event.
RENO — The Special Olympics National Unified Tournament (SONUT) was held earlier this week at the National Bowling Stadium in downtown Reno to kick off the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) Open Championships, which begins today.

The USBC championship tournament has been held in Reno numerous times since its inception in 1901.

“This is our 108th tournament and our 10th time in Reno,” spokesperson Matt Cannizzaro said Wednesday. “That’s a record.”

The Special Olympics joined the bowling action in 1991 when hall of fame bowler Jimmy Schroeder suggested the idea.

“It was his idea to have the Special Olympics tournament a few days prior to the USBC,” SONUT director Marty Allen said Wednesday morning after the SONUT opening ceremony.

During the opening ceremony, the USBC gave Special Olympians some exciting news: All Special Olympic bowlers now are members of the USBC.

“Today, on March 2, the USBC proclaims unanimous support to the Special Olympics,” said Eric Kearney, USBC officer of education and diversity. “We want to make every Special Olympic athlete a USBC member and a part of of our community.”

Allen said for the USBC to recognize all Special Olympic bowlers as members of the bowling congress is an honor. He also said he is grateful for the opportunity Olympians are given to compete on a national stage.  

“We can’t thank the bowling council enough,” Allen said. “It’s really cool to be at the same site, the same venue, with the same officials (as the USBC national tournament).”

The USBC tournament will last 122 days, but Allen said some attendees believe the two days prior to the event when the Special Olympians compete is the most magical part.

“A lot of folks say this part, the Special Olympics, is one of their favorite parts of this tournament,” he said, “which runs through the end of June.”

The USBC Open and SONUT are sponsored by Circus Circus Hotel Casino, the Eldorado Hotel Casino and Silver Legacy, and Allen said Reno is a favorite venue for bowlers. SONUT boasted more than 450 participants, most of which stayed and played at Circus Circus.

“I love it here,” said David Higgs of Indiana. “I love the town. I have dreamed about bowling here for a long time.”

Higgs bowled Wednesday on a team with Becky Warren, also of Indiana, and Sue Oliver and Ben Campen of Connecticut. Each team was composed of two Special Olympians and two family members, friends or coaches.

Dan Corrigan and his teammates from Chandler, Ariz., Christy Murray, David Harris and Carolyn Harris, also were enjoying their stay in Reno.

“We’re having a lot of fun,” Corrigan said. “We are staying at Circus Circus, just eating food and pigging out.

“I even did a little bit of gambling,” he added. “I won $3.”

Corrigan said this is his second time bowling in Reno. When he isn’t bowling, Corrigan works as a courtesy clerk at his hometown Safeway.

“I’ve been there nine years, it will be 10 years April 1,” Corrigan said. “I enjoy helping people out to their cars.”

Lisa Vinella and Suzanne Becker of Washoe County competed Wednesday on a team with Jesse and Daniel Frankel of Las Vegas, and Vinella said coaching Special Olympians is something she can’t get enough of.

“It’s a passion,” Vinella said. “It’s something I can’t get away from.”

Vinella said she and Becker won gold medals at a regional tournament in November, and seeing Becker’s reaction brought great joy. When Becker was chosen to compete at nationals, Vinella said, her reaction was priceless.

“Seeing the expression on her face when she knows she is chosen is worth every bit of sweat, every bit of tears and every bit of my time,” Vinella said.

Washoe County Special Olympians were turned on to the national bowling tournament several years ago by Gary Schwartz, who coaches about 80 bowlers in Corpus Christi, Texas, Vinella said.

“If it wasn’t for Gary from Gary’s Raiders, we would still be bowling alone and I wouldn’t have a teammate,” Vinella said.

Schwartz said he and his son, Eric, have not missed a tournament since the early days of SONUT.

“In 1991 they started unified sports,” Schwartz said. “We have bowled since 1992 and my son has not missed a venue since that time … I don’t know what we’d do on Thursday night if we didn’t bowl.”

“It’s our time to socialize,” Eric said.

Vinella encourages people who don’t bowl to get involved, and said local Special Olympians can always use coaches. The group bowls on Monday evenings at Grand Sierra Resort and Casino

“It’s an amazing game,” Vinella said. “Anybody can do it.”

The USBC tournament will run all day, every day until June 3, and will feature about 13,000 teams, Cannizzaro said. More than 63,000 bowlers from across the United States are expected to filter through Reno during the course of the tourney, he said.

“We’re estimating a $96 million impact to the community this year,” Cannizzaro said.

No admission fees are charged for spectators, and everyone is welcome to attend, he added.

“If they are a local and they haven’t been in, they need to come,” Cannizzaro said. “We usually start at 7 a.m. and finish at 3 a.m.”
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