By Pete Pichaske
Thanks to Unified Sports in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools, special education student Mikenna Tressler is on a varsity team.
Tressler strides up to the foul line at Annapolis Bowl, bends slightly and lets the bowling ball fly. The ball bounces off the right bumper, off the left bumper, then hits the lead pin head on, knocking down all three pins and leaving the lane bare.
Mikenna has rolled a spare.
She spins around, a look of unabashed delight on her face, and leaps up and down several times, her hair flying, her hands raised in triumph. “I got it!” she shouts, her glasses nearly bouncing off her face.
At the Annapolis Bowl on Generals Highway, where Mikenna is competing in a four-team, after-school match, a dozen of her fellow Annapolis High School students cheer, and Mikenna makes her way back to her seat, hugging her friends and exchanging high fives along the way. “I got it!” she shouts again, as two other friends, smiling and laughing, bend down to give her more hugs.
Forgive Mikenna Tressler her excitement. The Annapolis High student, who has Down syndrome, is still getting used to being an athlete.
“She just loves all these sports, and she’s loving having this program,” says mother Christal W
allace. “It’s so unique how she interacts with other children. She didn’t have this chance before.”
Mikenna is one of about 400 Anne Arundel County high school students who participate in the county’s Unified Sports Program. Half of the participants are special needs students, the other half are not. Launched in the spring of 2011 in partnership with Special Olympics of Maryland, the program offers competitive sports — tennis in the fall, bowling in the winter and bocce in the spring — to students with intellectual disabilities.