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Super bowlers: Area Special Olympics athletes know how to roll with the ball

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez High School football player Cedarius Bailey helps Mixavier King perfect his bowling form Friday morning at Rivergate Bowl during the Area 7 Special Olympics Bowling Tournament.

Shaquille Williams did not have a career-performance Friday morning at Rivergate Bowl in Natchez, but he still rolled well enough for second place in his division.

Williams, 19, has captured first-place ribbons in the past, but his score of 83 fell a few pins short of the winner at the Area 7 Special Olympics Bowling Tournament.

“I ain’t disappointed,” Williams said. “I had a good game.”

Williams’ score was high enough to qualify him for the State of Mississippi Special Olympics Summer Games in May, but all of those accomplishments came second to being able to have fun bowling with his friends and, at times, giving them a hard time about their occasional gutter balls.

“It’s a lot of the same faces (at every event),” he said. “We like to get to each other. We get into each other and play around like that.”

Williams, a six-year Special Olympics veteran, was one of 163 athletes that bowled Friday morning, and the top three finishers in each age group qualified for the state games in Biloxi.

The turnout was greater than expected, Special Olympics District 7 director Tommie Jones said.

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Bailey pins a blue ribbon on Roderick Smith’s shirt after he tied with Angela Rounds in the wheelchair division of the tournament. Below, Bailey tries to coax the ball down the lane with his body language for Special Olympics competitior Jessica Peshoff.

“It was really wonderful,” she said. “It’s a good feeling. A lot of these athletes I taught when they were little (at Natchez High School), and to see them as adults is remarkable.

“They have grown a lot. Special Olympics does a lot for their self-esteem, and it means a lot for them to come together and meet.”

Several Natchez High football players also attended the tournament to cheer the athletes on, and many of the athletes, most of whom attended Natchez schools, said that was a thrill.

“That was cool,” Williams said. “They came to support us. The football coaches and football players were real cool.”

Natchez football coach Lance Reed said he was glad he and his players could come support the athletes, but he thinks the Bulldogs may have gotten more out of the experience than the olympians.

“We always want to try to come out and help in the community,” Reed said. “Ms. Jones presented us with an outstanding opportunity to do that, and I think that’s really important, and I think our guys enjoyed it.”

Kristy Sikes, 24, had a good time bowling in the tournament and finished fourth in her age group, but she said her focus this summer will be the bocce tournament.

“(Bocce) is a bit different (than bowling),” she said. “You use a little white ball, and there’s more strategy.”

Williams is looking forward to bowling in the state games in May, but he said he is better at track and field events and the softball throw. Williams said the ribbon he earned Friday will go in his room with his other trophies.

“I hang them up in my room,” he said. “I have so many different ones from winning a lot of games.”

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Tyler Williams, Chris Weatherspoon and Cedarius Bailey help Angela Rounds watch the ball as it goes down the lanes Friday morning.

Williams said he was proud to get the chance to represent Natchez High School in the games.