Team USA women help usher in new school year for fourth-grade students Article Image
ARLINGTON, Texas - They may not have been headed to the lanes to compete, but six Team USA women got a chance to pull on their team jerseys for a great cause last week, helping to kick off the new school year for some young students in Graham, Washington.

Missy Parkin, Danielle McEwan, Jordan Richard, Stefanie Johnson, Liz Kuhlkin and Shannon O'Keefe, all of whom won gold medals for Team USA in 2019, reunited via Zoom on Sept. 3 to talk bowling with fourth-grade teacher Natalie Wheelock and 40 students from Rocky Ridge Elementary.

Despite a non-traditional start to the 2020-2021 school year, with everything still taking place virtually due to COVID-19, the current landscape gave the students an opportunity they likely wouldn't have had otherwise.

"Overall, it was a very positive experience for both me and the kids," said Wheelock, who coordinated with another teacher at Rocky Ridge to allow more students to share the opportunity. "It opened up a lot of eyes about the possibility of something they didn't even know existed - being professional bowlers - and the fact that there's this amazing group of people out in the world representing them and our country on the lanes."

During a time in history that has added uncertainly and stress for students, families and teachers, Wheelock knows that virtual learning continuing into the fall may bring some challenges, but there also will be opportunities, like having six of bowling's biggest stars visit her class.

With the continued help of technology, one thing she hopes to do this year is bring different aspects of the world into her classroom, and that started with the Team USA meet-and-greet.

She also likes to remind her class that no matter what's happening in the world, there's always something to celebrate.

Each day, she posts about an international or national holiday, and the first day of school happened to coincide with U.S. Bowling League Day. Just like the school year, the new league bowling season is getting underway across the country, too.

2019PanAmWomensDoublesGoldMedalsForWeb465x262The Team USA members had a chance to talk about the places they've traveled, when and how they started bowling, some of their favorite moments and triumphs and some challenges they've encountered or overcome along the way. They also got to share some of their favorite photos.

"It was absolutely amazing to be a part of this and get a look into the new way of teaching and learning and see how (Ms. Wheelock) is using different ways to make it fun and successful," McEwan said. "One of the things we got to tell them was that we'll all be on TV at the end of the month for the (Professional Bowlers Association) League, so hopefully, they'll check it out, and we'll have some new fans out there cheering for us."

The group's most recent success with Team USA included a doubles gold medal for O'Keefe and Johnson at the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru and a pair of gold medals at the 2019 World Bowling Women's Championships Las Vegas - singles for McEwan and trios for Kuhlkin, Parkin and Richard.2019WorldWomensTriosGoldForWeb465x262

Together, the six earned a bronze medal in the team event at the World Women's Championships to complete a six-medal haul at the event.

O'Keefe, McEwan and Richard also found the winner's circle on the Professional Women's Bowling Association Tour in 2019, while O'Keefe was named PWBA Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.

"The ladies did an amazing job and were models of professionalism," Wheelock said. "They were so patient with the kids and had some inspirational things to say about following your dreams."

Though 2020 has not offered the same on-lane opportunities as previous years, having days like last Thursday and getting to serve as role models can be equally as rewarding.

"It was so refreshing to speak with the young kids and share our journey and simply give them hope that no dream is too big to dream," said Johnson, who has been a member of Team USA each year since 2005.

Johnson has two young children, Levi and Kenzie, and has gotten to experience virtual learning as a parent, too.

At the end of the presentation, "Ms. Wheels" allowed the students to use the chat feature on Zoom to share any thoughts or questions they had for the Team USA players, and she said the space was flooded with thank yous and appreciation from the inspired students.