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Jasmyn Stinnett stares intently, bowling ball in hand.
“Let’s go, Jasmyn!” cheered Ericka Pesterfield, who said Jasmyn is one of her best friends.
Jasmyn, however, wasn’t happy with her efforts.
She snuggled on the lap of her mother, Sophia Stinnett, in the crowded seats around Tri-City Lanes in Midtown.
“I need to work on my bowling skills,” Jasmyn said plaintively.
“You have awesome bowling skills,” Sophia Stinnett assured her daughter.
Bowling excursions like this and other sports activities aren’t mere occupational therapy for students in the special education classroom at Cherokee Middle School.
For those students, along with others across Roane County, it’s a chance to unwind, bond with other children and perhaps even play competitively at the local level of the Special Olympics.
“They love it,” said Cherokee Middle School special education teacher Kellie Allen.
“I’m just lucky to have a group of kids that parents bring them.”
Pesterfield confirmed her teacher’s assertion.
“I like bowling,” she said. “It is so fun. I like bowling with my best friends.”
Another of her best friends, Gary Buell, sat down next to her recently after his turn at the bowling lane.
Allen decided to do golf this past season and had tremendous student response. She is looking at basketball next.
“As long as the parents will take them, we’ll do it,” she said.
She sees tremendous benefit in getting the students interested in athletics.
“I have some students with limited motor skills,” Allen said. “It has helped their hand-eye coordination. It helps their mobility. It gives them a lot of social interaction. They start to make friends.”
The children love the time together, cheering each other on. They bowl at Tri-City Lanes each Friday and recently participated in the Area 30 Special Olympics bowling tournaments.
One of the coaches is Ericka’s father, Jeff Pesterfield.
He coached the golf team and gives bowling tips to students who go to the lanes each Friday afternoon.
He said he started helping because of Ericka but has found joy in helping them all.
“Actually I get more out of it then they do,” Jeff Pesterfield said. “She [Allen] has made such a huge difference in these kids. It has been wonderful, really.”
Stinnett echoes those sentiments. She held Jasmyn back because she didn’t think the youth was ready for high school — and because of how she’s flourished at Cherokee.
“It is awesome. Ms. Allen has done an awesome job of getting them involved,” Stinnett said.
“They come do anything she asks them to do and will do their best at it,” she added. “I really appreciate her doing this for them.”
Allen appreciated the dedication of her many volunteers, including Jeff Pesterfield, whom she said “was taking vacation days and personal days for every practice, every tournament.”
He also donated money for new golf clubs.
Allen said the athletes have their own page in the school’s yearbook, and have cheerleaders and other students get involved.
Cherokee Middle youngsters finished their first golf season before the school year began.
They competed in four tournaments, and Buell did outstanding for a beginner.
“I made it to level 2,” he said of his abilities that allow him to team play on a 9-hole course.