Months of training culminated when 560 Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners, peers without intellectual disability, from across the state showcased their skills at the Special Olympics Delaware (SODE) Bowling Tournaments held on January 10 in Dover and Milford. Participants represented Special Olympics Delaware’s five Area programs from across the state: Wilmington Wizards, Newark Dragons, MOT Tigers, Kent County Wild Kats and Sussex Riptide.
Beginning as an official Special Olympics of Delaware (SODE) sport in 1978, bowling has become the most popular sport among SODE athletes with more than 17,000 bowlers over its history. “One of the neatest things about our athletes participating in bowling is that they can then transfer what they learn to other bowling opportunities outside of Special Olympics when they are invited by friends and family, which is a very popular thing to do, especially during the winter months,” said Gary Cimaglia, SODE senior Director of Sports.
Milford resident and Special Olympic athlete Daniel Yonker competed at the statewide event as his parents Bill and Faye Yonker watched Daniel and cheered him on. Thirty-nine years old, Daniel has been involved with Special Olympics Delaware for third-one years. Competing in the sports of downhill skiing, golf and bowling, Daniel has discovered independence and confidence through others that share similar disabilities. In addition to his love of sports, Daniel also works at Staples in Dover, DE, a company he has been with for over 10 years.
“It is more than athletics,” commented his mother Faye Yonker. “At a young age it allowed us an opportunity for socialization in Daniel’s life and it has become a big family for all of us.”
When Daniel was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at a young age, Bill and Faye admit that they did not know where to turn for assistance with their son’s syndrome. During the 1970’s there was not much information among the medical industry to educate families and the Special Olympics of Delaware offered the family a resource for local, state and federal news and information on individuals with disabilities. Mr. and Mrs. Yonker have been volunteers with the organization for over three decades.
“At the time it was common practice to consider institutionalizing individuals with Down Syndrome,” said Bill Yonker. “We wanted our child to have socialization and live as much as possible a normal life.”Special olympics gave us a place where Daniel could meet friends and also a place where we could communicate with other families in similar situations.”
Competing in the sport of golf at a World Game in Ireland, Daniel continues to compete at the state level annually. In fact, every week he visits the Milford Bowling Lanes to practice for competition, averaging 157 a game. “He loves to bowl,” stated Faye. “He loves his friends but most of al he loves to compete.”
Special Olympics Delaware began in 1971 with the mission to provide sports training and competition to athletes with intellectual disabilities. Since the program began, they have helped more than 3,700 young men and women achieve their athletic goals, proving that no disability is too great to overcome.