CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. — Nolan LaValley, blind since birth, does not let his disability keep him from bowling and enjoying a sport he has learned from his high school coach and teammates.
A member of Northeastern Clinton Central High School bowling team, he uses his limited ability to contrast light from dark to locate the lane and the gutters, when to stop and release the ball, directing it toward the tenpins.
“I can see the gutter lines because they are darker,” LaValley said. “I kind of aim myself in the center between the two. There is a black line across the floor before the lane starts so I try and just stay one step behind it.”
“It’s been incredible,” he added. “My teammates have been great. Coach has helped me a lot as well. She has come up with incredible analogies on how to bowl because I can’t see how it’s done. I can’t see the proper technique of how to throw a ball.”
Coach Danielle Menard said LaValley, a high school junior, does not let his blindness discourage him. She said his attitude helps improve team morale.
“He's always joking about himself or joking with everyone,” she said. “He makes it all happy, and he makes me more positive as well. I mean, how can you not feel positive just knowing what Nolan is trying to do?”
Menard’s pleased with how LaValley’s teammates welcome him. For example, she said, before every match or practice, team members assist him on and off the bus that transports the team to the North Bowl Lanes in neighboring Plattsburgh, New York. Champlain, a town of 5,700 people in northeast New York, does not have a bowling alley.
“All of Nolan’s teammates have been amazing,” Menard said. “They never hesitate to be there for him, and our team is closer because of Nolan. He’s a great piece to the team.”
LaValley’s interest in bowling developed when his aunt bought him passes for Christmas 2018 to try the sport. He promptly gave it a shot at the North Bowl Lanes.
“I loved it,” he said. “I didn’t do too well, but I loved it.”
Eventually, he sensed the layout of the alley and the position of the tenpins at the far end. The hardest part, he said, involved controlling the ball and making sure he had his ball.
This Christmas he got an all-white ball, “and I will be able to see that a little bit better.”
As the bowling season progressed, so did LaValley. In a recent match with his school’s “B” team against AuSable Valley High School in Clintonville, New York, he scored his best game (117) and series (277). He accomplished another milestone in early December when he tossed his first strike in a match.
“I want to get better; that’s what drives me,” LaValley said. “It’s frustrating (at times) but I look at it this way: If I can keep the ball out of the gutter and hit at least one pin every time, it’s a win for me.”
Joey LaFranca is a reporter for the Plattsburgh, N.Y., Press-Republican. Reach him at jlafranca@pressrepublican. Com.