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Hitters and Splitters a Huge Success

August 2, 2009

Nestled in the far lanes of the Brunswick Zone, Gary Hemminghaus was having a grand guys night out.

Just two weeks earlier, not one but two newspaper articles had been done on Gary, 40, celebrating his 20th anniversary at his job.

Now he had just bowled a spare, was talking up a storm with buddies and his stepdad and noshing on all the Imo’s pizza he could eat, all while hanging out with his favorite baseball player at the 4th annual Pujols Family Foundation Father and Son Bowling with Albert.

The special event was held August 2 in Chesterfield for fathers and their sons with Down syndrome.

“Albert, All-Star Game, 2009,” said a smiling Gary, who had just received Albert’s autograph on one of his newspaper articles recognizing his work at McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, at the other end of bowling alley, men about Gary’s age were bowling with their young sons, who also have Down syndrome.

“It’s great seeing the kids so happy, not only mine but everyone’s … they just light up,” said John Loudon, a former state senator who was bowling with son Samuel, 3.

In between about 140 other fathers and their sons were laughing and smiling, bowling and eating and rubbing elbows with their buddy Albert Pujols, who spent almost two full hours talking and posing, hugging and high-fiving just about everyone.

“I tell people, they’d be amazed at the way Albert puts himself out there for the families and hangs with all the people,” says Loudon.

The fourth annual event was by far the largest yet, with approximately 25 more families attending this year than last year. All 40 lanes had at least six bowlers, with some as many as eight bowlers. “Usually we have a slow rise in the number who come each year, but we had a big jump this year,” said PFF program director Jen Cooper, who guessed that word of mouth might have contributed.

And with approximately 60 volunteers, including an attendant for each lane, helping make the night possible, it was definitely a packed house.

But it also might have been the most relaxed event yet, with many of those with Down syndrome now thinking of Albert as one of their best friends.

The event started at 7 p.m. and by just a few minutes after, Albert began at Lane 1 and greeted each father and son and posed for a picture with Lace Images photographer Gina Kelly, as well as posing for a lot of snapshots with personal cameras. With the kids hugging and tugging and bantering with Albert, it took him an hour just to make it down to the older bowlers at the other end.

Meanwhile, families had a chance to squeeze in a few other activities too. Charlie the 100-pound tortoise from Petropolis came with his handler Brad Watts. And Carly, a 1.5-year-old tortoise who’s about 6 inches now but could reach Charlie’s size, came along too for everyone to pet and talk to.

Mike’s Balloon Creations also made fabulous balloon characters of all sizes and shapes. And Lace Images provided each father and son a chance to have their picture taken together and printed right there on the spot.

For the dads, a silent auction was held with some amazing sports paraphernalia, with most of it autographed by current and former professionals. Among the hottest items bid on:

• Ryan Howard autographed Phillies jersey.
• Sandy Koufax autographed and framed photo.
• Magic Johnson autographed basketball
• Brett Favre autographed and framed 16 x 20 photo.
• Adam Wainwright autographed baseball.
• Albert Pujols autographed bat.

And husbands could even bring home something for their wives, as the foundation brought about 100 copies of “Deidre Pujols in the Pujols Family Kitchen,” a 2010 calendar/Dominican cookbook, which Deidre signed in person at the bowling alley.

And at the end of the night, each special kiddo got to take home an Office Depot backpack that was embroidered with the PFF logo and full of items ranging from school supplies to a stuffed Build A Bear and McDonald’s coupons as well as a voucher for two tickets to a St. Louis Cardinals game.

But the night was much more about friendships and fun. Not only did the dads have a chance to talk and swap stories about their special children, but the kids had a chance to run around with old and new buddies and have a fun time with their dads.

“Seeing the parents’ unconditional love for their kids is amazing,” said Ashlie, a volunteer with Mercy Ministries. “Seeing their patience and love and compassion, it’s definitely encouraging.”


August 2, 2009
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