KHSAA Unified Bowling Champs Provide “Top 10” Moment
Beechwood Athlete Hailey Noah Strikes Out To Clinch Championship and Land on ESPN
In 2014 Special Olympics Kentucky and the Kentucky High School Athletics Association announced a partnership that would make Unified track and field available as part of high school athletics programs across the state, making Kentucky one of the first states to offer that opportunity. In 2017, that partnership expanded to add Unified bowling. On February 6, 2020, the Unified Bowling State Championship provided a moment that won’t soon be forgotten.
Athlete Hailey Noah of Beechwood High School in Ft. Mitchell – the only athlete in the State Tournament using a wheelchair – with the help of her Unified partner, Jensen Linder, rolled three strikes in the 10th frame to close out the state championship match against Barren County.
Everyone at Executive Strike and Spare in Louisville went wild and Linder himself was noticeably emotional.
“I just couldn’t have been happier for (Hailey),” Linder said. “For everything that she’s been through, and to see her accomplish this, I just couldn’t be more blessed to be her partner. She stole the hearts of everybody in that bowling alley. I just couldn’t be more proud of her and what she has accomplished.”
The crowd in the bowling alley weren’t the only ones to take notice. Both ESPN and Good Morning America contacted Linder about the win and by that evening Noah and Lindner were No. 3 on ESPN’s daily “Top 10,” one of the most coveted highlights in all of sports.
“I was absolutely speechless,” Linder said. “It’s always been a dream to be on ESPN Top 10 and I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to be on there. It was crazy to be a part of something that like that. It was truly a blessing to be along for the ride of Hailey’s fame!”
Number 3 on ESPN Top Ten! Wow I am legit speechless! Thank you lord! I am blessed to be this amazing girls partner! @BeechwoodA pic.twitter.com/T8uw5OVBF4
— Jensen Linder (@Jlindy_2) February 7, 2020
The state title-clinching turkey wasn’t even the biggest frame of the tournament for Noah. She came up in the final frame of the quarterfinal round needing a mark plus six pins to advance against Pendleton County. She struck on her first ball and rolled a spare to close the game out to make the “Top 10” moment possible.
Following their victory, the two returned to a hero’s welcome at a school accustomed to celebrating state championships – their football team has won 14 of them.
“The fact that the school supported us and treated us like we just won another State Football Championship was just absolutely amazing,” Linder said. “The response was crazy. All the seniors were outside waving and cheering on Hailey. Then Hailey and I took a trip down the main hall where the entire school was cheering on Hailey and myself. It was crazy, and the support from the school is like no other.”
Beechwood bowling coach Mary Ella Rorer raved about her team.
“Jensen and Hailey have a very special bond,” she said. “He was very patient, knowing it would take her longer to get warmed up and he had to help hold the bowling ramp while she pushed the ball. But I believe she has taught him so much more. She smiles all the time, even though she may be having a bad day. Her smile will light up an entire room.”
Rorer also mentioned that Linder, an outstanding individual bowler, had to make a decision to compete in Unified bowling.
“Jensen had to choose between singles and Unified,” she explained. “He said ‘it was easy, I want to give her an experience she may never get to do again.’ I think that Hailey pushed him to be a better person and to go out and be the best person he could be.”
Linder talked about what he learned through bowling with Noah.
“There cannot be any ‘I can’ts.’ There can only be ‘I cans,’” Linder said. “Hailey really showed this while we were bowling down at state. Every time we got up for her shot she could have said ‘I can’t,’ but she didn’t. I think people can learn to not give up and follow their passions. I think people can also learn to persevere through anything in any conditions.”
Rorer appreciates what Unified sports has done for the community at Beechwood.
“Students bond together, train and feel included in the school’s sports program,” she said. “Unified sports can unite the community around the athletes and the school and make them proud of both. There are many students who don’t play popular sports who want to get involved and mentor students. They are excited about the chance to participate in Unified sports and to get the entire community involved.”
Hailey’s parents, Steven and Rachelle Noah, agreed.
“I think that (Unified sports) allows kids to get to know students that share the same interests and create a bond with them through sports,” they said via e-mail. “Our hope is that more students and peers will see the impact Jensen has had on Hailey and want to be able to help other special needs kids. He was able to help her achieve something she wouldn’t have been able to do on her own. We hope that other kids with disabilities will look at what Hailey and Jenson did and want to get involved in Unified Sports.”
“I think Coach Dabo Swinney said it best when he said the only disability in life is a bad attitude,” Linder added. “If you have ever been to a Unified sports event, you can see exactly that. I think that is the main lesson that I have taken away from this experience.”