- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 1999

On any given Saturday afternoon, you’ll find McKinley Young at Bowl America in Silver Spring, perfecting his technique: adjusting his approach, working on his mental game, rolling strikes and converting hard splits into spares.
Just as important as physical ability is Mr. Young’s mental game, which enables him to react, adjust and overcome obstacles related to the sport and the game of life.
He is blind.
“I’m really an intense person. For 20 years, I bowled socially; however, within the last two to three years, I’ve started to take it more seriously. Mainly, because I was looking for another challenge,” says Mr. Young, 67.
“There’s such a small margin for error. You can throw a ball perfectly, and it almost always goes a little to the left or to the right, rarely does it go straight. As a blind person, the challenge is to put the ball down in the right place every time and it takes a lot of control,” he says.
Last month, Mr. Young traveled to Birmingham, England, to participate in an international bowling championship and rules convention for blind bowlers.
Mr. Young led the U.S. delegation in formulating rules that eventually will be adopted by the International Blind Sports Association. The association establishes uniform rules to govern tenpin bowling competition for the visually impaired and blind.
“We have had bowling for the blind in America for 50 years, so we’ve developed lots of rules and equipment, like the guide rail that the totally blind person uses to align themselves. But, in other countries they don’t have rails, so the totally blind person doesn’t bowl,” Mr. Young says.
With the help of Shirley, his wife of 44 years, Mr. Young demonstrated how the guide rail works at the competition and conference. He uses the rail whenever he bowls, and it’s proved to be very effective.
Mr. Young says he’d already been forewarned the equipment might not go over well with the other bowlers in England.
“People who saw the guide rail thought it was cumbersome, but, as they saw how it worked, everyone wanted a guide rail by the end of the conference,” he says with a smile.
Not only did Mr. Young, a computer programmer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, bowl them over at the negotiating table, he also won first place in the single matches.
In doubles, he and Tim Finan, who is partially sighted, won first place. Teammates Harry Cordellos and Marie Van Liere placed third in doubles. “It was a great competition,” Mr. Young says.
He credits the U.S. team’s success on the rails and the assistance that they offers blind and visually impaired bowlers. The lightweight guide rail stands 3 feet tall and is 12 feet long. It’s anchored on either side by bowling balls, Mr. Young says.
For instance, a right-handed bowler would place the rail on the left side of the lane. It’s lined up with the gutter, so the blind bowler takes his approach and aligns himself with the rail so that he is facing the pins.
“Then, you take a normal approach like a sighted person. Take your left hand and touch the rail for direction, so you continue to walk straight toward the pins,” Mr. Young says.
“Different bowlers use different methods. Some take one step or two. That’s the good thing about the rail, you can do whatever suits you,” Mr. Young says.
When he was 16 years old, Mr. Young who lives in the Northwest neighborhood of Petworth suffered a high school football injury that led to his blindness. He lost sight in one eye immediately, and four years later at age 20, he lost sight in the other eye.
“I had just received my acceptance letter into North Carolina A&T; on a football and baseball scholarship,” Mr. Young recalls.
He moved from North Carolina to Washington in 1954 with the hopes of getting a brighter prognosis from doctors at the National Institutes of Health. When that didn’t work out, Mr. Young was determined to get on with his life.
He took the Civil Service exam and passed with flying colors, but it took him two years to find employment.
“I wrote letters to every agency in the District and on the federal level. Then, I suggested I would work for nothing for a period of time and that seemed to appeal to someone. So, I got a job,” Mr. Young says.
“There was no bitterness. I remember myself as a sighted person; I’d only known one blind person. Two years to get a job told me that the image of blindness had to change,” Mr. Young says.
His philosophy about bowling and his work ethic are the same: He’s got to put the ball down in the right place every time and his work has to be as “close to perfect as possible because everyone is looking at it. If I do it properly, the door might swing open for others,” Mr. Young says.
“I’ve always worked with tremendous people. When they see effort, they’ll work with you.”
Mr. Young does the same on behalf of other blind and visually impaired people. Friends describe him as an advocate for the blind. He’s served as president of the D.C. Council of the Blind on numerous occasions. The organization champions causes such as job training and education, transportation and voting issues, says Oral B. Miller, president of the U.S. Association for Blind Athletes.
“I met Mack 30 years ago at the D.C. Blind Bowling League. At that time, we were 30 years young, and we were bowling at 4th and M streets in Southwest,” Mr. Miller says with a chuckle.
“He’s a very agreeable person. I bowled with Mack and his wife.” That’s why Mr. Miller asked Mr. Young and Mrs. Young to attend the European competition. They were a perfect match.
“He has the knowledge, and he keeps a cool head. Mack is a diplomat, but he can be hard-nosed when necessary,” Mr. Miller says.
Mrs. Young’s role was integral to the success of the trip. She was the only sighted member of the team.
“She was the one who did everything. She set up rails. She spotted the pins for us after we had thrown the first ball to tell us which of the pins were left standing. She literally did everything,” Mr. Young says.
Mr. Miller’s pleased with the success of the competition and conference.
“When international rules are adopted, we’re not saying that everybody has to use the guide rail, but we know it’s a good system. It’s an effective guide, and it opens the doors for people who are totally blind to bowl along with those with more useable vision,” he says.

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