Luke Rooney, Bay Breeze Golf Course golf pro, adjusts the seat of the SoloRider 3400 to just the right spot to tee off. Dominic Curtis, equipment technician, stands back to observe and assist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
by Steve Hoffmann
81st Training Wing Public Affairs
5/18/2011 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- At first glance, a remote-controlled bowling ball might sound like a joke or cheating or something James Bond might use if World War III would ensue if he didn't win a bowling tournament. But it's no joke and Gaudé Lanes Bowling Center has one. In fact, for those with physical disabilities, a bowling ball like this can literally be a game changer.
"People love it," said Bart Bosarge, Gaudé Lanes bowling center manager, as he steered the ball along a collision course with the pins at the end of the lane.
There's no reverse, no varying speeds, no wheels and it won't say, "Nice shot!" when it returns to the queue. It simply moves left or right using a pair of gyros on each side of the ball that a player can control with a handheld remote. It does have the ability to tip itself off a ramp at the top of the lane and has flashing lights for the visually impaired as it rolls down the lane.
Developed by 900 Global, the balls were first introduced to the Air Force at an expo in Las Vegas in 2009.
"A bunch of us bowling managers saw the demonstration and thought how perfect this would be for the wounded warrior program," explained Mr. Bosarge.
Don Freund, director of Air Force bowling, agreed but at $1,499 each, these balls were originally a little too rich for Air Force blood. However, 900 Global made a deal the Air Force couldn't refuse--make a bulk purchase and we'll knock $600 off the price of each ball. So the Air Force Services Agency bought 85 balls and distributed them to every bowling center in the Air Force. Gaudé Lanes got its ball in April. Wounded warriors and those with special needs, including civilians and dependents, have priority to use the balls at bowling centers at no charge.All others can use the ball for a fee.
But so far, other than a few demonstrations, no one has used the ball.
"I really wished I had the ball last summer. We had a big program with Veterans Affairs. Some of these people have the use of only their fingers and this ball would have been perfect," said Mr. Bosarge. "But we get a group of eight to 12 people from the VA every week and we also plan to utilize it for children's birthday parties."
Having a son whose legs were amputated, Mr. Bosarge has a little extra motivation to make the bowling center accessible to the handicapped.
"'We're gonna fix this place' was one of the first things I said when I started this job," said Mr. Bosarge.
The bowling center used to have a pit separating the back of the alley from the lanes. So Mr. Bosarge, along with his mechanic and night manager, framed it out, filled it in and tiled it all by themselves.
They assembled and installed new tables with swiveling seats that allowed more room for wheelchairs and made it easier for disabled people to sit down and access the lanes.
"A lot of thought went into making this place more accessible," Mr. Bosarge pointed out.
But he didn't stop there. Mr. Bosarge enrolled in a class through the wounded warrior program and became a certified adaptive need instructor. His training allows him to teach others how to work through their physical obstacles.
"I can teach you just about anything you want to know about bowling from a wheelchair," said Mr. Bosarge.
The bowling center is not the only place that has seen changes and adaptations to make Keesler's recreational facilities more accessible to those with disabilities.
Three years ago, the golf course acquired the SoloRider 3400, a golf cart that is designed to assist disabled people when playing golf. The seat of the cart can be swiveled 350 degrees and can be raised and lowered to get the user in a position to drive or putt the ball. It also has special tires designed to be able to drive on the green.
"But we haven't had anyone use it either," said Tama Manu, golf course manager. He said the golf course just doesn't see many people who are disabled enough to warrant the use of the cart.
However, for those who have trouble walking or limited use of their legs, the golf course has a blue flag program.
With the blue flag, a player is able to drive right up to, but not on, the green. This greatly reduces the distances a player needs to walk in order to finish a hole.
According to Dan Ransom, wounded warrior recovery care coordinator, there are currently 16 wounded warriors under his watch.
Not all of those are assigned to Keesler and none of them are amputees.
"I would imagine groups from the VA are going to be the biggest customers for these new recreational items," said Mr. Ransom.
Both Mr. Bosarge and Mr. Manu agree that part of the reason this new recreational equipment has gone largely unused is obvious -- it's new and word needs to get out.
For more information on the bowling ball, call 377-2817. For more information on the golf cart, call 377-3832.