Jared Boll’s girlfriend, Lauren Partridge, had been trying to get him to go bowling for a while. And he always said no, until a very special invite came along.
Wednesday, Boll and Partridge were at Star Lanes Polaris along with other Jackets players to spend a night at the bowling alley with this year’s pediatric cancer heroes.
"It’s a huge part of being a Blue Jacket," Boll said. "Getting involved and being able to do stuff like this. Any chance we can and when we have days off, an hour or two out of your day is nothing to see these kids."
Every year, through the Blue Jackets Foundation, a group of pediatric cancer heroes are chosen to participate in special programming with the team. For many years, the culminating event was a style show featuring heroes walking in a fashion show with Jackets players. But this year, the organization decided to do something different.
Kathryn Dobbs, executive director of the Foundation, explained that the Foundation had put on a large fundraising event during NHL All-Star Weekend called "The Crease" in lieu of the annual style show. But, for the Foundation, there was still a priority on finding a way to bring the players and the kids together to strengthen their bonds and have some fun.
Thus the idea of a bowling party was born.
Heroes sported customized Blue Jackets jerseys, and players wore Jackets-themed bowling shirts. The group enjoyed a full buffet of pizza and other goodies while bowling games in a private room with six lanes dedicated just to them.
"I felt like it was a little bit more laid back," said Partridge, who has also participated in previous years’ style shows. "It was more fun interaction and the kids weren’t as nervous and they were able to let loose a little bit more."
The first hero that Partridge and Boll met and bowled with was nine-year-old Lauren Slish from Lockbourne, Ohio.
Slish, who likes hockey "a lot," was very excited to come to the bowling party. She has participated in many of the heroes’ events this season, including ringing the bell â a signal of the conclusion of her cancer treatment â on the ice during Hockey Fights Cancer night at Nationwide Arena.
When asked if she had been looking forward to bowling with the Jackets, she said "very much!"
Blue Jackets players spent a night building relationships and bowling with this year’s pediatric cancer heroes.
"I’m glad they invited us," Slish said. "I even striked (sic) a goal."
Both Boll and Partridge said they enjoyed the opportunity to meet the families of the heroes and get to know their stories a little bit more.
"Bowling is a lot more laid back (than the style show)," Boll said. "Because it was less formal it made it fun for the kids – they were jumping around and getting their energy out."
Between frames, you could see players offering bowling tips to the heroes, or laughing with a family member about the score. You could also see parents sharing their children’s stories with a player as they beamed watching their son or daughter get to be a kid for a night without worrying about their disease.
"You wouldn’t be able to tell by their attitude what they are going through," Boll said. "All of them are in a great mood, full of life and just a lot of fun to be around. It brings the little kid out in us when we get to be around them and bowl with them and have fun with them."
And while Boll, who had said he was terrible at bowling, got five strikes, getting him finally out for a night at the lanes wasn’t the reason why Partridge joined him at the event.
"I have as much fun as the kids do," Partridge said. "I was excited about coming and it’s fun to see the kids and the smiles on their faces. It puts smiles on our faces too."
There hasn’t been a decision if the bowling party will become a recurring event like the style show, but Partridge has a suggestion.
"I always love the fashion show, it’s fun to see the kids dressed up and everything. If I had it my way I’d do the fashion show and bowling," Partridge laughed. "Maybe next year."
And maybe that means Partridge can get her boyfriend back out bowling again soon, even though he chuckled and said probably not.
It all may just depend if another little girl like Lauren Slish asks.