ENGLEWOOD — In a setting usually reserved for recreational fun, the Colorado High School Activities Association broke ground on history.
Across several bowling lanes, competitors from nine schools made a run at a state Unified Bowling championship. Pueblo East might've walked away with the first-place trophy, but everyone came away as winners.
The Eagles scored a total of 431 pins to hold off district rival Pueblo Central, who finished with 389. But loud applause greeted each team who qualified for Friday's state tournament as awards were handed out. It was a monumental moment in the growth of high school sports in Colorado.
"This is very beneficial for our athletes," Eagles coach Levi Martinez said. "It's about time we get something for the ESS and United program going. These kids deserve it. It's a great day and it's amazing everybody here cheering for everybody."
They were all certainly competing against each other, but the kids never once celebrated anyone's misfortune on another lane. It started as a bit of a nerve-racking experience but once the athletes got settled in, it turned into the same atmosphere that the kids have experienced all season long.
There was only happiness flowing through the AMF Belleview Lanes, no sadness or disappointment.
"It was a really special experience for me and my teammates," East's Diego Anaya said. "The teamwork we had was amazing, so was the compassion and sportsmanship that everyone had for each other. It was a special day today."
Anaya, Precious Guerra and Kyle Meyer made up the primary athlete group for the Eagles with Ebony Padilla-Andrews Orlando Trujillo or Miles Chaves serving as alternates. Martinez, Chuck Blagg and Jeremiah Blaha coached the team in their championship run.
Championships were hardly the primary takeaways for the day. The competition itself will serve as a foundation in which other Unified programs can build on.
“Over the years we have had the opportunity to watch these amazing athletes put it all out there, in exhibition matches and games,” assistant commissioner Jenn Robert’s-Uhlig said. “This year we were able to have a culminating state event to showcase their talents and crown them with a state title. It was a Monumental occasion. It was a great day for unified athletes and the continual growth of the CHSAA.”
The season and state tournament was also made possible with the effort of Special Olympics Colorado. The program was instrumental in organizing the event and making every athlete feel like a champion once it was concluded.
"It's setting the example that all the students in the building can contribute in sports and leadership," senior VP of Sports and Unified Schools Chaka Sutton said. "So often the special needs get overlooked and this goes to show that they can accomplish great things for their schools."
Both Sutton and Ben Wrubel were recognized for their contributions to the event, but it was seeing the athletes competing that served as the main reward for them.
They saw history made from the moment warmups began to the time that Pueblo East was crowned state champion. For all the athletes, Friday marked an accomplishment that can never be taken away from them.