Susan’s Special Friends Bowling League – Fun to Spare

Stepping into Shawnee Lanes last Tuesday evening, it quickly became apparent that Susan Rittinger was a popular person.  My interview with Susan stalled several times as her friends came by for hugs, to slap hands, and ask questions.  Susan Rittinger is the Susan of Susan’s Special Friends League, a bowling league comprised of individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) from Ross County.

The league, in its sixth year now, provides a valuable opportunity for individuals in the DD community to socialize and enjoy a recreational opportunity they may not get to experience otherwise. The members of the league receive a discounted rate of $2.50/game so that they can enjoy the activity.

Susan, a manager at Shawnee Lanes, got the idea to start the league after getting involved with the Special Olympics. “I wanted to see them enjoy themselves the same way they did during the Special Olympics,” said Rittinger. As many as 90 individuals do just that on Tuesdays and Sundays at Shawnee Lanes. Susan’s Special Friends are hosted on 15 lanes Tuesday nights and 8 lanes on Sundays with 4 people on each lane. All participants receive a custom t-shirt that Susan personally designs and tie-dyes.

“The love it. They look forward to it every year. It’s more rewarding for me than it is for them though, I think. I’m associated with only good memories for them.”

While Susan is the league’s namesake, and its leader, the undertaking is a community-wide effort.  The Pioneer Center donates money every year to help fund the t-shirts and assists with transportation. In addition, the CHS bowling team comes out every year to give Susan’s Special Friends pointers, coaching them on the techniques of the game.

When you are at the lanes, and the league is in session, you can feel the history, the friendships that have formed on the slick hardwood. After countless frames bowled, I was curious about Susan’s favorite memory from her time with the league. “It’s hard to pick just one. It’s every smile that I see when I’m out here. It’s like one big smile, (because) when they smile, the whole room smiles,” Susan explained.

Susan sees plenty of smiles during the annual parties that she helps put on – the Halloween Costume Contest in October and the Sweetheart Swirl dance in February.

However, the individuals involved in the league don’t just give smiles. They give back every chance they get. They even threw Susan a baby shower when she was expecting.

With six years under their belt, the league is now looking to expand by starting a division for the visually impaired. This year, a fundraising effort was undertaken that enabled the purchase of two “blind ramps” for the group. This specialized adaptive equipment acts as a guide for individuals who are visually-impaired, allowing them to bowl straight down the center of the lane.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining Susan’s Special Friends League, or would be interested in joining a visually impaired bowling league, you can contact Shawnee Lanes any time of year at 740-773-3300. Just ask for the most popular lady in the place.

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