Bowling balls crashed down the lanes, red and black balloons covered the dance floor and music carried through the halls of the Student Center Thursday.
It was all part of the Bowl & Bop, an annual event initiated and funded by Frank Bleyer in 1980 for disabled individuals to gather, socialize and play.
Our Directions, an assisted-living organization, began coordinating the event in 2006 and since 2010 has worked to completely support the event through fundraising.
The event, which drew 365 participants this year, received about $2,100 from 18 sponsors, and provided the organization with discounted meals from McDonald’s and student-priced bowling at the Student Center Bowling Alley.
Lindsey Radcliffe, director of the Bowl & Bop, said the Student Center provides choices, accessibility and convenience.
“It gives the participants a different environment from what they see every day,” Radcliffe said. “Do you like to go on vacation? So do they.”
Larry Coffey, an attendee at Bowl & Bop, said the best part of the day was bowling, but dancing was
a close second.
A self-proclaimed “sports guy,” Coffey said he is also an assistant football and basketball coach at Herrin High School.
Verna Webb, who owns and runs Our Directions, said volunteers play a major role in the event.
She said volunteers came from area high schools, hospitality interns, assisted living agencies
and the community.
“The volunteers are dancing, monitoring bowling lanes, assisting in the lunch room and helping the groups come and go,” Webb said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
Webb said she strives to continue the event because the people who come every year love it.
“They get to see their friends and go bowling and dancing,” Webb said. “They would dance all day, every day if you gave them
Webb said her great-grandmother, Verna Houghlin, started Our Directions in 1949 as the first to take disabled individuals out of Illinois institutions and into her home.
“She recognized that it wasn’t right and she did something about it,” Webb said.
She said there are 13 family members over three generations that continued participation in Our Directions and help with the
Bowl & Bop.
Radcliffe, one of the 13 family members, said the event is important to her because the participants are like her family.
Disabled individuals did not have the same constitutional rights as every other American until 52 years ago when the U.S. District Court ruled on the Wyatt v. Stickney case in 1971.
Because disabled individuals weren’t granted constitutional rights until fairly recently, many people in the room had experienced unjust hardships, Radcliffe said.
“We need to take care of the people around us,” she said. “They deserve so much more than a bowling day, but this is just one thing we can do for them.”