Matty Morales beamed with pride as her 12-year-old daughter grinned from ear to ear following a strike she bowled on Thursday.
Though she uses a wheelchair to get around and a ramp to help roll the bowling ball, Morales’ daughter Yahaira Morales was able to enjoy the things other young people her age have fun at with little thought or effort, Matty said. And Yahaira did so with other middle school students from the SMART (Seguin Matador Athletics and Recreation Training) program.
“We come here and they just come and play, enjoy something different,” Morales said of Yahaira and the dozens of other participants in the program. “It’s pretty good for them. They feel good about themselves that they can do something to have fun.”
For the past few years, the SMART program has taken students from Seguin ISD’s A.J. Briesemeister and Jim Barnes middle schools’ essential readiness classes to Pin Twist Family Entertainment Center to teach recreational and leisure skills outside of the classroom, said Stacy Nolen, an adapted physical education teacher for the district. Nolen is a sponsor of the SMART program.
She said each fall, the students bowl for three weeks, Nolen said.
“On this third week when we invite the parents out, we invite the high school cheerleaders to cheer on our athletes,” she said.
Seguin High School cheer coach Suzanne Zink said she and the cheer team love participating in the annual event. She said they get such a joy out of seeing the huge smiles on the faces of the SMART athletes.
Seguin High School junior and captain of the Sparkles Cheer Squad, Kenzie Kluth, 16, said she, along with her teammates, enjoy supporting the athletes and helping to ensure they have fun.
“We encourage them when they bowl and give them high fives,” Kluth said. “I think it’s enjoyable for all of us because we love to see them smile and have fun. I think it helps them learn real life experience and helps them grow.”
For her part, Yahaira couldn’t, and didn’t appear to try to, contain her smile. She lined up the ramp with the pins expertly and then pushed the ball down for it’s slow, albeit accurate, trek down toward the pins.
Whether she knocked them all down or just a couple, Yahaira turned and gave an enthusiastic high five to Robert Acuña who helped her navigate the lanes.
Acuña is a teacher’s aide at Barnes. He said helping the students is important to him, but more important is the opportunity the district offers the students to learn and grow.
“It’s just a really great opportunity for these kids to be included and to get them out,” Acuña said. “It’s very pro-social, gets them interacting with each other outside the school atmosphere. It’s important for life.”
Their seventh-grade daughter, 12-year-old Kendra Gella, enjoyed herself as she learned some of those important lessons, Rory and Shaina Hassold said. Kendra has participated in the SMART bowling even for a couple years and came out her shell a little more this year, Shaina said.
“Last year, she was at, like, a (score of) 10; this year she won,” Shaina said. “This year she was scared when we applauded her. Last year, it was so much worse. She would’ve fallen to the ground. She’s becoming more accustomed to vocal applause.”
Much of the applause came from the contestants’ fellow bowlers during Thursday’s outing. The applause, high fives and other interactions go a long way to help the athletes.
They learned to be more self-sufficient and to do things they don’t normally, Shaina said.
“It’s just showing Kendra that she can do what everyone else can do,” Shaina said. “Kendra can start to give herself excuses. She’s got challenges not excuses.”