“Everyone bowls around here,” says Sam Battle, an assistant principal at the Lorain County JVS and, for the last 35 years or so, the founder and go-to guy of The Ridgerunners. The Elyria resident’s league of about a hundred special-needs adults bowls every Saturday, in-season, at Center Ridge Lanes in North Ridgeville. “It’s like a way of life to us by now,” says Battle, who’s drafted his wife, three kids and, seemingly, half the community to help out in one way or another.

You’re Volunteered
“I remember sitting in church one Sunday with my mother when I was a teenager living in Lima,” Battle says. A call was made for a basketball coach to help a special-needs team of fifth- and sixth-graders play in a rec league against area school kids. “My mom volunteered me on the spot. First it was a chore because these kids knew nothing about even the basic rules. For the first half of the season, we lost every game. But the second half, we won every game.”

Working for a Cause
Battle says the basketball experience taught him that special-needs kids were teachable and that they wanted to have fun just like everyone else. Battle had found his cause. Special education became his major in college.

Meet the Ridgerunners
Battle chose bowling as his activity of choice because “21 percent of Lorain County is involved in bowling.” Battle decided that the mentally challenged, some of whom are also visually impaired, have the right to wear ugly shoes and embarrass themselves on an overly varnished hardwood floor just as badly as the rest of us.

With a Little Help From His Friends
It’s never easy running anything for 35 years, which is why Battle is quick to credit all of the help that’s come his way. He says the league president and treasurer and a very involved coach help a lot. He also mentions the countless volunteers and parents who’ve transported bowlers, coached teams, rounded up clothing, collected dues and helped organize the spring awards banquets. In fact, the awards banquet is one of the best parts of the league. “We start worrying every winter about how we’re going to pay for it, but we always manage.”