From top left: Francesco Bonacia (orange shirt); Jay Ballen (hat), Twila Ballen (glasses) and Tacey Ballen. Tacey was a standout bowler for Centerville High School, now at Tusculum University in Tennessee. CONTRIBUTED

Area bowlers making a difference

It’s usually tournament titles, state records and honor scores that fill this column, but countless Miami Valley bowlers are serving as “essential personnel” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are trying to be as prepared for COVID patients as we can be,” said Linda Borns, a nurse manager at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “We’ve done lots of testing, we have a very at-risk population. It’s all-hands-on-deck.”

A veteran tested positive for the coronavirus at the Dayton VA Medical Center in mid-March.

“It’s very, very real,” Borns said.

The health and well-being of her patients are not the nurse’s only cause for concern as there is the ever-present worry about the possibility of infecting someone she loves as Borns goes home every night to her husband and children.

“You second guess everything,” she said. “At work we all check our temperatures every day, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”

From nurses to police officers and grocery store employees to delivery drivers, local bowlers are hard-working heroes – doing so without the fun that their favorite sport provides.

“I can’t wait until I can get back to bowling,” Joey DeWitt said. “I miss it so much.”

DeWitt is an assistant meat manager at Kroger and has witnessed firsthand the impact the pandemic has had on the retail segment.

“When it first started, we would be fully stocked in the morning and by noon or 1 p.m., everything would be gone,” he said. “We couldn’t keep up.”

Donning masks and gloves is the new normal for DeWitt.

“We talk about it all the time at work, this is the craziest thing we have ever seen,” he said.

As the weeks of social distancing have gone on, DeWitt has noticed a shift from panic to appreciation from many of the customers.

“As things have progressed, people have been thanking us for what we do,” he said. “It’s been nice.”

Teresa Suber’s workplace was among the first to encounter drastic changes as she is a physical therapist assistant and rehab manager in a nursing home. A visitors ban, daily temperature taking for staff and increased infection prevention protocol have all been implemented but Suber, like Borns, has concerns about her family’s well-being.

“It’s terrifying, especially with an almost-2-year-old at home,” she said.

And while Suber misses bowling, her job makes social distancing even more critical so a quick return to the lanes might not be her best option even after the governor’s orders are lifted.

“I don’t know what that’s going to look like for me,” she said. “These are definitely interesting times.”

If masks become the new go-to for bowlers, Centerville graduate Tacey Ballen and her mom Twila are on the case. The current Tusculum University student is using her social distancing time to pick up a new skill.

“I had never done any sewing before,” Ballen said. “But a lot of people need masks so my mom showed me how to make them.”

It’s become a family affair as the Ballens have sewn more than 100 masks to date and the sewing machine won’t be getting a break anytime soon.

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