Special Olympics working through challenges

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

A welcome donation from the OPP will help the Fort Frances Special Olympics change course, after the closure of Plaza Lanes Bowling Alley

COVID-19 has kept the local Special Olympics club down but they are not out. The club got a boost this week with a donation from the local OPP detachment.

The closure of Plaza Lanes bowling alley this fall was a blow to the club as its primary sport was five-pin bowling. Club co-ordinator Gabby Hanzuk says many of the athletes were disappointed.

“The athletes were so upset,” Hanzuk said. “I mean they’re really heartbroken because that was such a social thing.”

Bowling was also a big attractor because it’s relatively easy despite any of the disabilities that Special Olympics caters to.

“95 per cent of all of the athletes were capable regardless of their physical or intellectual ability,” Hanzuk said. “Everyone could bowl, and now they’re tearing it down.”

Hanzuk is hopeful that more regular events can resume soon, though the current state of things makes a timeframe difficult to determine.

When the club is able to resume they will hope to include Bocce which is similar enough to bowling that many of the athletes who bowled should also be able to participate.

“The closest thing we can think to do is bocce,” Hanzuk said. “We’re kind of looking forward to that because it is a little bit like five-pin bowling.”

Bocce is typically an outdoor game along the same lines as lawn bowling. Competitors roll balls at a smaller ball, scoring points for whoever’s ball is closest to the small ball. Hanzuk said the similarity to five-pin bowling makes bocce a possible replacement for the club.

Cst. Daniel Bradford of the Rainy River District OPP presented a cheque for $1,500 to the Fort Frances Special Olympics club. From left: Cst. Bradford, Ray Bedard, Shelley Haney, Gaby Hanzuk, Roz Calder, Jeannine Gagnon. The funds will help pay for a Bocce set and other equipment, to help replace bowling as a primary activity for the group.-Allan Bradbury photo

Hanzuk believes bocce has the potential to be just as accessible as bowling for many of the athletes in the club.

“Pretty much every physical level can (play the game),” Hanzuk said. “We have athletes who are wheelchair athletes and some need a lot more assistance and guidance so it’s something we can see happening.”

Bocce is a summer sport played outdoors so that does leave the club without winter programming. The other summer sport they participate in is track and field.

As the club looks to the future, they’ve received a recent boost as well. On Friday they were presented with a donation from the Rainy River District OPP. Cst. Daniel Bradford was on hand to present a donation of $1,500.

Bradford first got involved with fundraising for Special Olympics when he was at the Provincial Police Academy studying to become a police officer.

“This pretty much all started when I was at the Ontario Police Academy, the OPP is a huge supporter of Special Olympics,” Bradford said. “A couple of my classmates were coaches and they decided to participate (in the Law Enforcement Torch Run) that year.”

When he left the academy, Bradford continued with his efforts to help with Special Olympics fundraising.

“Moving forward, it was something I wanted to understand more and participate in,” Bradford said. “So this year arriving in Fort, I started a team here and did the run and we raised money.”

Bradford also says Sgt. Ann McEwen at the detachment is an avid supporter of the organization and had contact with someone who was raising funds through a golf tournament in Thunder Bay.

“They wanted to give the money back to the community here in Fort Frances,” Bradford said. “So I reached out to (Special Olympics committee member) Roz Calder and we did the presentation.”

Bradford says being able to give back to the community he joined about a year ago feels good.

“Our whole job is to protect and serve our communities,” Bradford said. “It’s not every day we get to have a really positive interaction and feel like we’ve made a change in our community. I feel like this is a step moving in the right direction where we can help build a solid bridge between us and the community and hopefully build that partnership which the OPP is huge supporter of.”

As for the donation, Hanzuk and Calder are hopeful that the $1,500 will go a long way to purchasing bocce sets so the program can get up and running when it is safe to do so.