Local entrants Chris and Jillian Calanna of Ocean View, as well as Bruce and Brian Arendall from Dagsboro, competed as Unified teams during the day of bowling action. The Calannas and Arendalls performed well, and each team came away with gold medals for their efforts as members of the Sussex Riptide.
“I got a good partner over here, but I carry her,” joked Jillian Calanna, who is the Special Olympian of the pair, pointing toward her mother, Chris Calanna. “I got a gold medal to prove it. I have been playing since 2007, when I moved here.”
Jillian Calanna is also a member of the Special Olympics tennis program, which competes at Sea Colony in Bethany Beach. She said she loves being involved in the different sports.
The Calannas are originally from Staten Island, N.Y., but Jillian Calanna admittedly enjoys being a Delaware resident.
“I like it down here much better, because there’s a lot more I can do,” she said. “Now, since I came down here, I met some nice people, and I get to do sports I never thought I would do.”
When she is not bowling or playing tennis, Jillian Calanna goes to a day program three days a week at the Salvation Army, and is an employee of Marshalls in Rehoboth Beach.
“I love it,” she said. “I am pretty active. It keeps me busy. It keeps me going.”
Chris Calanna, who is retired, now works part-time with her daughter at Marshalls, as her aide.
A special moment during the bowling tournament for Jillian Calanna came when she was bowling against another girl named Jillian. The similarities don’t end there. They have the same middle initial. Like Chris Calanna, the other Jillian’s dad is the sports director for her team — the Kent County team, in that case.
The Jillians really hit it off. So much so that they have become phone buddies.
“I like talking to her,” the Jillian Calanna said. “We don’t really talk — we text. I like meeting new people.”
The Arendalls have been all over the Special Olympics scene since moving down to the area close to 15 years ago. The duo has been bowling together for nearly 20 years, having formerly resided in Newark.
“Brian is a really good athlete,” said Chris Calanna, offering her assessment as sports director for the Sussex Riptide. “He’s got a bowling title. He bowls the ball 19-20 mph. He probably throws the hardest ball on the team.”
Bruce Arrendall has been along for the ride with his son Brian every step of the way.
“I’ve been coaching him with Special Olympics for close to 37 years,” said the recently retired dad. “He is in basketball now, and he’ll be going to softball in the spring. He’s done tennis, swimming, soccer, bocce, bicycling, volleyball… He’s done it all.”
Outside of sports, Brian Arrendall is employed at the local Easter Seals service center, and he had previously been working at the courthouse in Georgetown.
“They do Special Olympics, and they gain a skill — a physical skill,” Bruce Arrendall emphasized. “It’s also a social group where they get to see their peers for a couple hours. It’s also really good for community inclusion and community acceptance, because by the time you put together all the volunteers, the coaches, the families, and all those things together, you’re getting a lot of people exposed to the athletes with special needs.”
The Riptide team featured close to 70 participants in the state tournament this year. To see the excitement and joy that their kids get to have by being involved in the sports, in and of itself, is a great reward for the pair of parents, they said.
“One of the best parts of it is certainly that,” Bruce Arrendall acknowledged. “I’ve coached with him. I’ve played Unified sports with him. I’ve been in the stands. It’s awesome. To get to see him now — even when he was much younger, he didn’t have the opportunities to go out and do something like this, because there was nothing organized like this.”
“Me and other people should have an opportunity like that,” Jillian Calanna said. “I know it’s about fun.”
Delaware Special Olympics bowling is one of more than 30 Olympics-style individual and team sports that provide meaningful training and competition opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities. For the state tournament, there were four different divisions, featuring Traditional Singles, Unified Doubles, Singles Ramp and Singles Bumper.
According to the Special Olympics website, about 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way. ESPN has served as the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2013, supporting the growth and expansion of the program, which is designed to empower individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage through the power of sports.
By Jason Feather