At a practice in mid-December, Champion bowler Natalie Morgan was not happy with a ball she rolled.
"Stupid pins! They don't like me today!"
Morgan sought advice from her teammates on what she was doing wrong. Should she move more to the left? To the right? The rest of the Golden Flashes tried to give her advice, but in the end, Morgan had to make the decision on what ball to throw and where she should line up.
"Like any other teammate, we would say 'Move this way,' or 'try this,' " teammate Kylie Johnson said. "It's what we do with Natalie. She makes her own decisions. If she doesn't want to do something, she won't do it. She's getting more accustomed to what she needs to do in situations."
A situation like this is normal for any high school bowling squad - teammates picking each other's brains, shouting frustrations when a ball doesn't go his or her way, high fives and praise when a shot does go right. This is all normal practice on the lanes.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Champion bowler Natalie Morgan, 17, left, rolls her ball down her ramp toward the pins as teammate Kaley Saksa, 17, bowls on a nearby lane during a recent practice at Champion Lanes.
Though Morgan acts like any other member of the Golden Flashes girls bowling team, she is not like anyone who has participated in the sport at Champion. Morgan has cerebral palsy, making her bound to a wheelchair with limited motor skills.
Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by an insult to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth, according to MayoClinic.org. In general, cerebral palsy causes impaired movement associated with exaggerated reflexes, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs and trunk, abnormal posture, involuntary movements, unsteadiness of walking, or some combination of these.
However, though she is different from the other bowlers, Morgan just wants to be a part of the Golden Flashes bowling team.
"I just like showing other people just because I'm in a wheelchair doesn't mean I can't do anything that I put my mind to," Morgan said.
The love of the game
The 17-year old junior first got involved in the sport during summer camps that she attended. She became quite fond of the game and wanted to continue playing it outside of her camps. So, just like any other interested party, she attended tryouts for the bowling team.
"She was very interested in bowling, and she had just done it for fun," Champion coach Jennifer Parker said. "I was asked if I'd be interested in letting her on the team, so of course I said yes."
From that moment on, Parker said Morgan immediately fit in with the team.
"She has the best attitude out of all of us," Johnson said. "Even though sometimes we don't want to come (to practice), or we might have a hard day of school, she's always ready to go.
"It's really easy because she's accepting and learning. She's not difficult to work with. And she's game for anything."
Now the challenge was for the girls, and Morgan, to adjust to what it would take for her to be able to take part in matches.
For Morgan to be able compete is a total team effort. Due to the fact she is confined to her wheelchair, Parker has to lift her chair up on to the lanes. From there, an apparatus and ramp is attached to her chair across her lap, which allows the ball to balance as she approaches the lane. After the ball is placed on her ramp by one of her teammates (Parker is not allowed on the lanes during matches), Morgan wheels herself to the foul line. She lines up her shot according to the dots in front of the foul line, then pushes her ball down the ramp.
That's the easy part. The tough part for Morgan, and her teammates who are helping her, is that her ball doesn't spin or break the way other's do, which makes it hard for her teammates to help her try and adjust her shots.
"It's hard with her ball that it does way different things then my ball would do," Johnson said. "But she's adjusting to her ball just like we do with our ball."
As much as she possibly can, Parker tries to get Morgan involved in every match, likely during the baker games. Bakers are three games, played at the end, in which a five-man rotation bowls 10 frames. Now the Flashes want as big of a lead as possible so Morgan can come in as early as possible, according to Parker.
"My favorite part of matches are bakers," Morgan said. "And that's my favorite part of tournaments too, because people cheer and stuff. The whole bowling alley gets excited when I get a strike or a spare. That gets me excited. I get butterflies in my stomach."
When she has been out and about bowling for fun, Morgan said her highest game is a 150, and she recently threw a 133 and a 130. And while she loves high scores, being a part of a team is what Morgan truly takes great pride in.
A part of the team
"I like being on a team, making new friends and having a pink bowling ball with my name on it."
Though Morgan loves her pink bowling ball, being a part of the team is what Morgan loves the most - and her teammates love it just as much.
"She always brightens everyone's day," senior Emily Trunick said. "If someone does bad, we tell her to give us the funny face. It's the cutest thing ever."
The funny face - or silly face as Morgan calls it - is simply sticking her tongue out at her teammates to make them laugh after a bad roll. It has now become a staple with the team.
She also prides herself on cheering on her teammates at every chance she gets.
"Yeah, they can hear me during matches, usually I'm saying to Brittany, I say, 'Don't lose your confidence,' or I'm always telling them nice ball, or nice pickup," Morgan said. "And when they need cheering up, I stick my tongue out at them."
It's that kind of spirit and energy that Morgan has brought to the lanes this year, and Trunick can tell that it's helped their team in many ways.
"If she wasn't on the team, we probably wouldn't be doing as good as we are, because of all of the energy and excitement she brings to the team."
Johnson went on to say that she's probably the most reliable person on the team. She's never missed a match and rarely misses a practice.
"She could be our team captain," Johnson said. "She's got the spirit for it, the initiative for it and everything."
And while she has brought an energy and life to the Golden Flashes, Parker has been most impressed with the way her teammates have embraced her and taken her under their wings.
"(When she first) came out, we had tryouts, and I thought for a bunch of 17-year old high school girls, you would think they would be like, 'I want my playing time. It's my senior year.' But they weren't.
"I was shocked. I told the high school principal, 'I can't coach this. No one can coach this.' This is just them and their personalities. No one can teach them to be this generous and to be this nice, this patient."
But for the girls, they don't even think twice about it. They are just helping a teammate in any way they can.
"She might not walk up to the lanes, but it's the same thing ... she bowls," Johnson said. "That's what we're here for and that's what she's here for - to just bowl and be a part of a team."
When she's not bowling, Morgan likes to color, play video games and play on her Kindle Fire. For Christmas, she asked for Doc McStuffin toys, which are her favorite.
But Morgan just loves to bowl. She said she has enjoyed her time on the team this year, and hopes next year to be on the squad again.
"Before this I was just bowling at my summer camps," Morgan said. "Now that I'm actually on a team, it's fun. But I need to be more aware of where my ball goes.
"I hope (to be back on the team next year). This year, I'm just trying to get used to getting home from school and rushing right back out the door again!"
A common problem for any teenage girl. But again, Morgan is not a normal teenage girl, and not just because of her disorder.
"She's not only our teammate, she's our biggest cheerleader. She's our biggest fan," Johnson said.