Saturday, March 21, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - So President Barack Obama thinks he bowls like a competitor in the Special Olympics?

He’s obviously never met Kolan McConiughey, a mentally disabled man considered one of the nation’s top Special Olympics bowlers, with five perfect games to his credit. He’d like to go to the White House and show the president a thing or two about how to roll strikes.

“He bowled a 129. I bowl a 300. I could beat that score easily,” McConiughey said Friday.

His challenge to Obama followed the president’s offhand remark on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” Thursday comparing his famously inept bowling to “the Special Olympics or something.” Recognizing his blunder, Obama apologized to the chairman of the Special Olympics before the show aired.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Friday said the president believes that the Special Olympics are “a triumph of the human spirit.” Gibbs added that Obama understands that the athletes “deserve a lot better than the thoughtless joke that he made last night.”

During an interview with The Associated Press, the 35-year-old McConiughey quickly rolled several strikes with his left-handed hook in a short demonstration of his prowess at Colonial Lanes in Ann Arbor.

In addition to five perfect games since 2005, McConiughey has also had an 800 series and carries a 212 average. He laughed as he joked about the popular president’s apparently poor game.

“I’d tell him to get a new bowling ball, new shoes and bring him down to the lane,” said McConiughey, who speaks with a serious stutter. “Keep his body straight, his arm straight and keep his steps straight. He has to practice every single day.”

Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver was quick to respond to the president’s apology.

“He expressed his disappointment, and he apologized in a way that was very moving,” Shriver said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Obama, Shriver said, wants to have some Special Olympic athletes visit the White House to bowl or play basketball.

Still, Shriver said: “I think it’s important to see that words hurt, and words do matter. And these words that in some respect can be seen as humiliating or a put-down to people with special needs do cause pain, and they do result in stereotypes.”

Shriver is the son of Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics and has championed the rights of the mentally disabled.

His sister, Maria Shriver, wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a longtime Obama supporter, said laughing at the president’s comments “hurts millions of people throughout the world.”

“People with special needs are great athletes and productive citizens,” Shriver said.

After a White House meeting with the president, Schwarzenegger was asked about Obama’s remark and said he knew the president’s heart.

“He loves Special Olympics, and he would do everything he can to help Special Olympics,” the governor said.

With an IQ less than half of the 100 considered average, McConiughey lives with his foster mother and has held the same job at a grocery store for 16 years. He greets customers, sweeps floors and maintains the store’s break room.

“He can’t read much, can’t do math, can’t do bill-paying,” said his foster mother, Jan Pardy. “Kolan faces all these challenges, but he has an area of genius, and his genius is bowling.”

McConiughey has been bowling since about age 8. And he still finds time to bowl in three leagues.

“It would be an honor for him to bowl with the president of the United States,” said Lois Arnold, president of the Special Olympics in Michigan.

Pardy said she saw Obama’s comment on TV Friday morning and was not offended.

“Everybody has missteps,” she said. “I don’t think it was a slam against the Special Olympics.”

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