November 18, 2009
The daily experience of most boys is characterized by sights and sounds that will linger in their memories for life: the shriek of a referee's whistle at a flag football game, the wads of gum they chew in little league dugouts, the crashing of pins at a Saturday morning youth league.
But the daily experience of 10-year-old Tyler Cacioppo and seven-year-olds Chris Oldman and Troy Barnes is characterized by stark realities: intravenous infusions, insulin injections, the blade of a surgeon's scalpel. Their stories find common ground in adversity, but their hope is found in the form of professional bowlers whose celebrity does not cloud their sense of something bigger than themselves.
Even the most casual bowling fans know how steeped in charitable initiatives the sport has been in the past year.
They see two-time Professional Bowlers Association titlist Rhino Page bowling with a shaved head in tribute to his best friend, Rusty Marquez, who recently underwent chemotherapy. They see stories of PBA stars such as Bill O'Neill, Patrick Allen and Michael Fagan gathering at Bowlmor in New York City to raise money for children's hospitals and 9/11 foundations.
They read that Lynda Barnes has retired from Team USA in large part to focus on raising awareness of juvenile diabetes, the disease with which her son, Troy, was diagnosed last year.
"When we found out that Troy was going to need insulin injections (through a special pump) for the rest of his life I panicked a little bit," Barnes said recently, "but Troy kind of took it all in stride."
It is in the human moments that bowling fans cannot see, though, where the full story of the sport's grassroots legacy is told.
They do not see the three hours that Rhino Page spends texting Tyler Cacioppo as the boy lies in a hospital bed, helping him focus on something other than the fear and pain of yet another intravenous infusion in his fight against Crohn's disease.
"The last time he went it was 6 hours long, and Rhino stayed on the phone with him for three hours because Tyler was so scared," says Patti Cacioppo, Tyler's mother. "He was begging me to help him and I couldn't help him. As a parent that's the scariest thing in the world. Rhino got him to focus on what he was doing and I was so grateful for that because it was one of the hardest things in my life."
Page met Tyler Cacioppo at a Pro-Am earlier this year and struck an instant friendship that culminated in a sold-out Crohn's disease charity event at AMF Sheridan Lanes in Mineola, N.Y. on November 14th.
They do not see the look on the face of USBC and PBA Hall of Famer Ernie Schlegel as he learns over lunch that Chris Oldman, the son of a bowler with whom Schlegel has just competed in a doubles tournament, has already had several open-heart surgeries in his seven years of life.
But the look on Chris Oldman's face when he receives a phone call from his idol, Chris Barnes, after a voice mail from Schlegel informed Barnes of the boy's story, brings a smile to Schlegel's face.
"Chris Barnes sent him a poster in the mail that he and his wife Lynda signed, and when he saw that both of them had signed it he looked at me and said 'Look! Lynda signed it too!'" Schlegel laughs.
They do not hear the quiver in Johnny Petraglia's voice as he reminisces about the years he spent bowling action with Mark Roth as kids in the New York City area long before anyone beyond the five boroughs had ever heard their names. Those memories rushed to the forefront of Petraglia's mind when news of Mark Roth's debilitating stroke stunned the bowling world this past summer.
This is where the true colors of professional bowlers are found--in the checks that Marshall Holman, Mike Aulby and Johnny Petraglia write to fund Roth's medical bills; in the swarm of participants that follow Rhino Page into AMF Sheridan Lanes so that the money they raise there might spare the next generation's children from the fight that Tyler Cacioppo wages each day; in the fundraisers that help Lynda Barnes see the day when no boy has to depend on an insulin pump to live.
But when the checks are signed and cashed and the last person leaves the local fundraiser at a bowling center near you, the fight does not end.
Mark Roth still has to get up the next day and try to walk a little farther than he did the day before. Tyler Cacioppo still has another doctor's visit next week. Chris Oldman will likely need to go to the hospital again and Troy Barnes will be as dependent on an insulin pump as he was the day a doctor diagnosed him.