Comsewogue bowler has determination to spare
Mason McFadden's dream was modest. The senior at Comsewogue High School wanted to compete in a varsity bowling match.
And last week, his dream came true.
"I've learned the lesson that anything is possible if you put your mind to it," McFadden said. "I hope I can inspire others."
McFadden was born with cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair for as long as he could remember. Comsewogue bowling coach Eric Sorenson believes McFadden, 17, to be the first wheelchair varsity bowler in Suffolk history.
McFadden said his left side is weakened, but his dominant, bowling side is not. He has learned to angle himself and the ball just right, and though it moves slowly, he produces enough force with his arms and wrist to make an impact at the end of the lane.
Though his score against Harborfields was only 49, McFadden was pleased. His average on the practice squad jumped to 80 from 20 over the course of the season.
He has gone from using bumpers, to ramps, to modified balls to, now, no additions at all. After consulting with the athletic director, school psychologist and coach this year, he was allowed to join the team.
"You have to attack every day with a positive attitude and a smile," McFadden said. "I never in a million years thought I could throw with a regular bowling ball, I'll tell you that."
McFadden said his grandfather Joe Vollkommer, 69, introduced him to the game at age 6.
"I would tell him, don't let anyone tell you you can't do it," Vollkommer said.
McFadden joined a bumper league, and his love for the sport was born. After he outgrew bumpers, he said he would push a ball down a small ramp so it would gain speed.
Then, about a year ago, he met Jason Soricelli, a wheelchair-using bowler who works with the Town of Brookhaven's adaptive sports program. It was Soricelli who helped McFadden go from a "suitcase ball" -- a ball with a retractable handle -- to a regular bowling ball.
"Mason has worked very, very hard to get to where he is," said Soricelli, who coached McFadden during Wednesday night wheelchair bowling at Coram Country Lanes.
McFadden's evolution has been so marked that Comsewogue's team co-captain, Dan Rivera, called him "the most improved bowler I've ever seen."
McFadden's affiliation with the team is unrelated to new federal Education Department guidelines, released Friday, that give students with disabilities a fair shot to play on traditional sports teams.
With postseason competition coming up, Sorenson said it's unlikely McFadden will get another crack at a varsity match, but there are other benchmarks to consider.
"Our goal this year with Mason was to break 100," Sorenson said before the Harborfields match. McFadden hit his goal a week later, when he bowled a 106 and a 102 in a practice match against Sayville.
His grandfather, still one of his greatest cheerleaders, called the achievement incredible. Though the retired Verizon lineman lives in Babylon, he goes to watch McFadden when the team travels a little closer to his home.
"I never see him without a smile on his face," Vollkommer said. "I don't know how he does it. I know he doesn't throw it the fastest around, but he's doing it. He never ceases to amaze me."