An 18-year-old Howell boy's dream of joining the Rebel bowling team has come true thanks to community support and collaboration on the part of school administrators and his devoted mother, Sharlene Zuppardo.
Michael Zuppardo, who has autism, tried unsuccessfully to make the Rebel bowling team. Disappointed Michael wouldn't be able to participate in some fashion, his mother created a Howell Patch blog post that gained attention from all around the world and inspired a petition garnering over 900 digital signatures supporting putting Michael on the team.
On Monday afternoon, after Zuppardo met with members of the administration at Howell High, Michael was at the Howell Lanes as the new manager of the Rebel squad. Zuppardo said in the end all she wanted was for her son to be part of the team, which is what she had been lead to believe would happen all along.
"I felt that Michael being such a good kid at school, they could find something, something to involve him in it," she said.
Zuppardo said her son has become one of the more well known and well liked members of the student body during his time at Howell High School.
"The whole town practically knows Michael," she said. "The whole school knows Michael. Michael is the town mayor."
Zuppardo said it had been difficult explaining to Michael why he was not on the team after believing he would be a “guest bowler,” on the squad despite not making the cut. Zuppardo worked with teachers and administrators who know him in the school to bring about this successful solution.
"If it wasn’t for Michael’s past teachers and current teachers for me to push the issue I never would have pursued it any further than I did," she said.
The overwhelming outpouring of support she received from people who read about her son’s story also helped her to keep fighting for Michael. Even local bowling legend Parker Bohn III reached out to the family and offered to lend a hand.
Michael will be going to the Carolier Lanes in New Brunswick next month and will be a guest bowler at a Masters bowling event thanks to Bohn’s help.
What started out as a bad situation for the family has ended well and Zuppardo thanked the administration and Coach David Clampffer for helping to find a solution that worked for everyone.
"I just wanted Michael to be a part of something," she said. "We all can’t get what we want. It wasn’t about that. It was about the deal that was made to me and made to my son and then broken."
Zuppardo said now that everything is done, she is glad her son gets to do what he wants and be a part of a team, much like he was at Memorial Middle School. Whether the team wins or loses, she said Michael will be there to support them and boost their spirits.
"Having Michael in your life, you could be in the baddest mood and he’ll put you right into a smile,” she said.
Even with all the ups and downs, she said the Rebel pride is still strong in their house.