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Hammond Optimists team member Matt Przewozni bowls during Stars Strikes” bowling event benefiting Challenger Center OlympiLanes Hammond Monday April 22

Hammond Optimists team member Matt Przewozni bowls during the Stars and Strikes” bowling event benefiting the Challenger Center at Olympia Lanes in Hammond on Monday April 22, 2013. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 8, 2013 6:04AM



Bowling competition can be very serious and intense.

But for 14 local teams, a recent Monday at Olympia Lanes in Hammond found the bowlers in a jovial mood, with the intent to just have fun during the Stars and Strikes Charity Challenge.

Funds raised by the teams were earmarked for the Challenger Learning Center, which is located on the campus of Purdue University Calumet but is independent from the university.

“The Center is funded through its program fees, donations, grants, fundraisers and gift shop sales,” said Becca Manis, executive director. “We battle the idea that we are part of the university and sometimes, because of this, fundraising can be tricky. Events like this reinforce our status as a nonprofit in need of community support.”

Among this year’s teams were the City of Hammond and the City of Crown Point. Friendly, competitive banner between the two teams took center stage as the games began.

“We’re feeling confident. They are going down,” said Crown Point team member Keith Stevens. The response from Hammond’s team was just as certain. “Everyone has to have a dream,” laughed team member Jeff Long. “We are going to win today.”

Although neither team took top honors, Hammond defeated Crown Point.

First place was won by NIPSCO’s team of Butch Faught, Jeff Horn, Kenny Kieltyka and Peter Novak Sr.

Shelice and Michael Tolbert of Merrillville enjoyed a snack before the competition began. As a member of the law firm of Hoeppner, Wagner, & Evans, Michael was gearing up to join his bowling team members, as his wife was showing her support for cheering on his team.

Although Shelice hasn’t been to the Challenger Learning Center, she learned about one of their programs through her cousin, Portage sixth-grader Kendall Ellis, whose class was scheduled for a simulated space mission. Each student was required to get a letter of recommendation, listing which position he or she was best suited for.

“I was glad to do it,” Shelice said. “This hands-on program at the Challenger Center is very impressive, and what a wonderful opportunity for the kids.”

In addition to the City of Hammond, the City of Crown Point, NIPSCO and the Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans LLP teams, other participants were two teams each from Arcelor Mittal and the Optimist Club and Community Foundation, IBEW 697, Mechanical Concepts, Motar Net, South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority and Swartz Retson teams.

The Challenger Learning Center is currently gearing up for summer camps.

“These camps are a great way to keep kids’ minds turned on over the summer,” Manis said. “We’re offering robotics, rocketry, underwater astronaut training and an intergenerational camp for adults and kids to partner up — so grandma can bring her granddaughter or Uncle Bob can bring his nephew and spend some quality time together doing educational and fun activities.”

The Challenger is also preparing for its second annual 5K Space Race.

“We are excited to say that our race is now a Cal Striders Gold Cup Series race, which is an honor,” Manis said. “We hope to see at least double the number of runners/walkers this year.”

For more information about programs and events at the Challenger Learning Center, call (219) 989-3250 or visit clcnwi.com.



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