March was quite the month for Special Olympics Wisconsin parent-child Unified bowlers. The month was headlined by athlete Joanna Stein and her mother, Patricia Pipkorn, who brought home the gold from the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.
But a little closer to home, other parent-child bowling teams were also competing on a big stage. That stage was the 29th annual Special Olympics National Unified Bowling Tournament held in Las Vegas, Nevada March 5–7, 2019.
“Just getting the opportunity to be with the athletes, compete with athletes, and enjoy one another’s company on the trip was awesome.” – John Andrew
Manitowoc Miracles athlete Nick Andrew and his father, John, were two of the eight competitors representing Wisconsin in the national tournament. Fellow Manitowoc Miracles athlete Henry J. Baer and his father, Henry, were two others. Despite it being the 29th year that this Special Olympics invitational has preceded the United States Bowling Congress Championship, this was the first time Special Olympics Wisconsin was represented. Nick and John teamed up in doubles and took 5th place while the Baers partnered for doubles and took 6th place. The four then teamed up and snagged 5th place in the highly competitive team category. The father-son duos were joined on the Special Olympics Wisconsin delegation by fellow Manitowoc Miracles Lee Pilger and Annette Weullener and Pauline Ho and Cindy Krolow of Valley Packaging.
“We competed,” John said. “But just getting the opportunity to be with the athletes, compete with athletes, and enjoy one another’s company on the trip was awesome.” John and Nick were even more grateful to share this once in a lifetime experience together. The trip was Nick’s first time in Las Vegas and only his second time on an airplane. In Las Vegas, the group got to tour the Las Vegas Strip in a pink convertible Jeep, eat sumptuous meals they had never tried before, and even visit the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, the setting of the popular television show, “Pawn Stars.”
“Having a family member with a developmental disability cuts across all classes and social statuses. It brings together a really diverse group of people.” – John Andrew
This trip was just the latest of many great experiences the Andrew duo have shared together through Special Olympics. Prior to this, one of Nick’s favorite memories was years ago in Eau Claire for the softball championship when Nick struck out their opponent’s big home run hitter. “It was kind of like striking out Casey at the bat,” John said. And John, who has coached over the years and, since 2011, served as agency manager, fondly remembers a touching coaching memory. “I had just taught a player brand new to softball how to field. The very first inning after that, he successfully fielded two ground balls and a pop fly, getting all three outs,” John said.
While these athletic experiences are certainly highlights for Nick and John, Special Olympics is so much more than that to them. “It gives me a chance to meet people,” Nick said. John believes Special Olympics makes up a big chunk of his family’s social life, and it makes for a unique social life at that. “Having a family member with a developmental disability cuts across all classes and social statuses. It brings together a really diverse group of people,” John said.
But Las Vegas wasn’t just an amazing Special Olympics experience for the Andrews, Baers and their teammates. It was a favorite life experience. And it was was made all the more special that they were able to share it with family and friends. Though their competition is over, the trip is a memory they all will cherish for a lifetime.