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Foundation Hosts First Mother/Daughter Bowling Event

May 17, 2009

Anything boys can do, girls can … have a blast doing too.

For the past three years, the Pujols Family Foundation has treated sons with Down syndrome and their dads to Hitters and Splitters, an invitation only-bowling event with Albert Pujols held each August.

Meanwhile, Deidre Pujols and the PFF have held two amazing tea parties and a pizza party for special daughters and their moms. But this spring the gals were treated to their very own bowling party with the Pujols family.

“The teas were really nice, but the bowling is more interactive,” says mom Darlene Martin, whose daughter Erica is 5. “They can run around and I don’t have to ask her to be quiet. It’s fun to dress up and go out for the tea, and this is the flip side, and they can be really active. Erica’s having a blast.”

Darlene, Erica and nearly 200 other moms and daughters hit the 40 lanes at Brunswick Zone in Chesterfield on Sunday, May 17, and bowled and danced, noshed and chatted and even played with Charlie the Tortoise, a 100-pound sulcata tortoise best known for his escape from Petropolis for a week in 2007.

“The father-son bowling we’ve done has been such a success and the boys have had such a great time,” said Jen Cooper, PFF program manager. “The moms had been asking, `When do we get our chance.’ And we thought why not. … I’ve already had some of the moms come to me and say how much fun they’re having and how much their girls love to bowl.”

Another plus for the gals was that Albert was able to join wife Deidre and daughter Isabella at the lanes, after baseball conflicts kept him from previous mother-daughter events.

Girls night began at 7 p.m. and Albert, who had collected two hits vs. the Brewers hours earlier, was immediately engulfed in a sea of pink as even the youngest girls seemed to know immediately who he was. Hugs and pictures ensued, then Deidre began with a prayer and the pins began to drop.

After a few frames, Albert spent almost an hour going from lane to lane to pose for more pictures, share more hugs and talk with the moms and daughters, who ranged in age from about 2 well into adulthood.

“She knows everything about him,” said Jackie Baniak of daughter Mackenzie, 10, who went right up to him after also watching him at the game that afternoon. “She actually talked to him about the game today. She told him good job, and he laughed and said, `We lost.’”


Second only to Albert and Deidre in popularity was Charlie. Two summers ago, Charlie made the news when he wandered out of Petropolis, a pet care facility in the Chesterfield Valley. Searchers hit the streets, a $1,000 reward was offered and updates on local news channels ensued. A week later, Charlie finally was found, near Best Buy.

These days, Charlie, who’s 11 now and should reach 350 pounds when fully grown, is safely back at Petropolis (which has a new front door), and “Tortoise Whisperer” Brad Watts of Petropolis takes him to various events, where he inevitably draws a crowd.

“Curiosity, excitement, I haven’t had anybody be scared of him,” said Brad. “The children here are no different than the adults are with him. Charlie brings out the kid in everyone.”


Helping everything run smoothly were nearly 60 volunteers, including about 30 young energetic women from Mercy Ministries.

A volunteer in every lane made sure each mom and daughter had more than enough Papa John’s Pizza, McAlister’s cookies, Coldstone Creamery ice cream and soda to drink. They also guided the mothers and daughters to where they could get their pictures taken together by Lace Images and handed out glow sticks, laughed and played with girls and got the girls dancing everything from the cha cha to cotton eye joe.

“I expected the kids to be more shy,” says Mandie Swinford, 18, one of the Mercy Ministries volunteers. “They’re awesome! I love working with the kids. I love it.”

Some things don’t change

Perhaps the only drawback to the bowling vs. the other mother-daughter events was that it was hard to get in too much girl talk, unlike at the teas when Deidre shared her testimony with the moms and the moms had a little quieter setting to share their stories with each other.

But even in the new setting, certain aspects of the PFF event remained unchanged:

–Moms with younger daughter were able to get a glimpse into what the future might hold for their daughter.

Among the most inspirational young women was Stephanie Schechter, 36, who works Monday-Friday and lives on her own and also volunteers in the community with High 5, a group the PFF sponsors.

“I like to bowl,” said Stephanie. “I like Pujols, he’s a good baseball player.”

“I always enjoy seeing her with her contemporaries,” said her mom, Eileen. “And I think the parents with younger children love seeing the older kids and how well they’re functioning and what they’re doing. When Stephanie was younger, I loved seeing the older kids with Down syndrome, it’s very inspiring.”

–New friends were made.

Lanes were assigned by age, so the older girls from all over the metro area were paired with other older girls and their moms.

In one lane, Pat Kinney and Katherine Gregus were able to meet and get in some spirited action with their daughters, Beth and Bridget, whose scores were just as high as their moms, if not higher.

“It was nice that they gave us a team right away,” Pat said. “We didn’t have a choice and that’s nice because it helped us meet more people.”

Bridget Kinney, 29, also danced and had Albert sign her shirt, and Beth Gregus, 31, was all smiles too.

–The moms didn’t have to explain their daughter’s differences to anyone.

“I was just thinking how beautiful it is that all of the kids here look like my daughter, I don’t have to apologize for,” said Darlene Martin. “I can be free with her here. It gives me a calmness and sense of normality.”

Making it all possible

In addition, Michael Geerlof of Mike’s Balloon Creation Company made an amazing array of balloon figures, everything from Elmo to giant wearable butterfly rings to Spider Man, complete with web.

And, many fabulous sponsors contributed to create a great parting gift for everyone. Tucked inside a backpack embroidered with the Pujols Family Foundation logo were items from the St. Louis Cardinals (a voucher for two tickets to a game), a Build-A-Bear Workshop bear, schools supplies from Office Depot, matching mother-daughter necklaces from Shawn Paul Jewelry, a Pujols baseball bracelet from Gamewear and coupons for Brunswick Lanes, McDonald’s, and Velvet Crème Popcorn. Each backpack also contained the book “Women Chat God’s Spirit,” which was autographed by author Kristin Gembala.

So what’s next for the girls? In addition to the upcoming Home Run Derby in June, the PFF will again be offering cooking classes for the girls. Only this year, the boys can come to. Anything girls can do, boys can have a blast at too!


May 17, 2009
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