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Bowling: 'They all want to win'

After Sam Pulkrabek saw the last pin fall for a strike, he turned around, hands held high in celebration and all smiles. Pulkrabek ran through his area at East Grand Forks Liberty Lanes giving high fives to everyone—teammates, coaches, total strangers.

That reaction isn't unusual for members of the East Grand Forks Senior High adapted bowling program.

"That's pretty typical,'' coach Betty Benson said. "All the kids get excited when they get a strike or a high score. And they get discouraged when they don't. When that happens, you just have to encourage them.''

Adapted bowling is in its first season at Senior High. A total of seven athletes compete—Pulkrabek and Katie Baumer in the autistic spectrum disorder division, Mady Stallmo in the physical impairment division and Jace Anderson, Zach Morken, Jennah Fontaine and Chris Welsh Axelson in the cognitive impairment division.

Adapted bowling is a statewide program. Scott Koberinski, the athletic director at the school, credits new school business manager Jim Muckenhirn for getting the program rolling.

"Jim helps run the state adapted bowling tournament,'' Koberinski said. "When he came here, he asked if we were interested in it. We looked at the program and said absolutely. It's a great opportunity for these kids to compete and get to a state tournament. We felt it was a great idea.''

For the athletes, bowling isn't just a social event.

Since the season opened in March, the bowlers have virtual competition every Wednesday and Thursday. They bowl at Liberty Lanes and their scores are exchanged with opponents bowling at their home lane.

On Tuesday, the team is on the road, traveling to Fergus Falls to bowl in a state qualifying tournament.

"Jennah is incredibly competitive,'' Benson said. "Chris is the same way. You'll hear kids saying, 'Yes, I beat everybody!' Some of the kids are less competitive. But it's there. They all want to improve. They all want to win.

"They get so excited when they do well. They feel a sense of accomplishment.''

Fontaine smiles broadly as she sees the 118 game score she just rolled. "Good game. I won again,'' she said.

In the next lane, Axelson does an arm pump after he knocks down three pins for a spare. There's another arm pump when he follows with a strike, and the next shot results in a second straight strike and an arm pump with both arms.

"That got me really pumped up,'' said Axelson. But there's no smile after the strikes. It's all business for the 17-year-old junior who finishes the game with one of his best scores of the season.

"I'm competitive. I want to keep getting that score, or better,'' he said.

Axelson spends a lot of time around sports. He's usually in the dugout during Senior High baseball games, shagging foul balls. In football and hockey, he's in the bench area, getting water for athletes or helping with equipment.

Axelson enjoys the experience of being around other teams. And he'll share his bowling success with the other Green Wave athletes.

"I'll tell the guys how I'm doing,'' he said. "I'll tell them, 'Let's go bowling.'

"I'll beat them.''