FORT HOOD — Thirty local athletes from among 2,000 hope to bring home the gold at the Special Olympics Texas Winter Games this week in Austin. Bowling competitors got in their last practices Saturday at Warrior Lanes at Fort Hood. And they are ready to bring home the medals Saturday.
“I have bowled most of my life because bowling is my favorite sport since I have been in Special Olympics,” William “Mike” Mikell, 44, of Killeen said. “I’m getting better at it. I’m in the 150s (score).”
Mikell is one of three members on a team known as the Phantoms that bowls for the Killeen-Cove-Hood Special Olympics and he has been bowling with the organization for more than half of his life.
“Most of the time, he gets gold or silver at the games. His bowling average this year is 147. He’s been bowling with Special Olympics for 28 years and with this specific team for 15 years,” said Vivian Mikell, his mother and bowling coach.
Angela Heidler of Killeen is the lone female on the team and said she keeps the team at its best.
“Ever since Mike started bowling more than 20 years ago, we’ve been bowling together. Sometimes, I beat them both. I make those boys bowl,” Heidler, 38, said. “Our team has been together 20 years, since 1984.”
Heidler said she usually gets a silver or gold medal bowling at the state games. Her current bowling average is 127.
“Last year, I pulled my arm out and got hurt or I would’ve gotten gold. I am hoping to get gold this year, but I don’t know,” she said.
Paul Fisher, 53, of Lometa is the newest member of the team. He has been bowling with Mikell and Heidler for 10 years and bowling since he was 15.
“It gives me something to do and it’s like anything else. You get addicted to it. I like the competition between the teams,” Fisher said.
Then, Mikell’s ball hit the pins hard and knocked them all down.
“Strike! See, I’m going to brag. I am going to beat you,” Mikell said, laughing and poking Heidler in the shoulder.
The team won gold at the Fourth International Special Olympics Winter Games held in Reno, Nevada, in 1989 where athletes from 18 countries participated. They hope for a repeat performance this year but first have to win at state to turn their dream into reality.
Linda Dillon, head bowling coach since 1990, will travel along with three other coaches to Austin on Thursday. She said that the bowling competition has grown 25 percent since 2013’s state winter games.
“Last year, our athletes were spread out over three bowling alleys in Austin. This year it is four. It is very competitive,” Dillon said. “The athletes enjoy it and as they get older, it is easier for them than track and field.”
Dillon said all bowlers will compete as individuals at the state games except for two unified bowling teams. Unified Sports teams allow athletes to participate in sports activities with two other members without disabilities. Locally, several of the athletes are military dependents with many of them coming from Killeen-area high schools.
The area games which involve track and field are held in Waco in April or May.
Anyone interested in volunteering with Special Olympics, can call 254-690-4153.