Josh Everwine might be the most popular student at Kingsway Regional High School. He's a smiling senior whose perpetually positive outlook despite physical limitations inspires classmates, teachers, support staff, administrators, and anybody else fortunate enough to cross paths with his wheelchair.
But as of Thursday afternoon, Everwine was something else: a varsity athlete.
"Bowling on the varsity," Everwine said of the best part of a black-and-red-letter day at Westbrook Lanes in Brooklawn.
Born with half a heart, with just two chambers instead of four, Everwine has undergone six heart surgeries. During the second operation, at age 7 months, he suffered a stroke, leading to partial paralysis on his left side.
But what nature denied him in physical capability, it doubled in spirit and enthusiasm. He can't run or jump. He can light up a room.
"He has never complained, not once," said Josh's mother, Michele Everwine. "Never said, 'Why me?' Anytime we have to do something like a surgery or whatever, he's always like, 'OK, what are we doing after?'
"All he does is smile. Nobody loves life as much as Josh."
Josh Everwine loves sports, too. That's why Thursday's promotion from junior-varsity status meant so much to him, as he was surprised to learn from Kingsway coach Mike Mulligan that he would be rolling in a varsity match for the first time in his four-year career.
Josh did well, too. He had a score of 45 in the match's second game – after rolling for the junior varsity in the first game – and generated a 76 in the second game, including a spare in the fourth frame that drew loud cheers from teammates and other spectators.
"It warms our heart," said junior Alex Horchuck, Kingsway's top male bowler, who rolled a 250 in the second game of the Dragons' victory over Deptford. "Everybody loves Josh. He's always happy. He energizes us."
Kingsway senior Katie Robb, one of the state's top female bowlers, said Everwine's elevation to the varsity level was a fitting tribute to everybody's favorite teammate.
"It's literally amazing," Robb said after a rolling a 241 in her second game. "Josh always has a smile on his face. He's always positive. I wish I could be half as happy as that kid."
Michele and Chris Everwine, the chief of police in East Greenwich Township, say their son has been a ray of sunshine for all 18 years of his life – despite the surgeries and the endless therapy sessions, the wheelchair and the partial paralysis.
"He's a people person," Chris Everwine said. "He always has been. He'll have friends over, and we'll have a houseful."
Mulligan calls Everwine "the face" of Kingsway bowling and said the decision to allow the special senior to roll in a varsity match was an easy one.
"I remember last year we were riding to a match" at Egg Harbor Township, Mulligan said. "We're on the bus and in the back, they're singing and Josh is leading the way and I could just see where this team was headed, how they were all coming together, and Josh was right in the middle of that.
"If you're ever having a bad day, find Josh. You'll instantly feel better."
Michele Everwine is a former professional bowler who says she "literally grew up" in her mother's bowling alley in New Castle, Del. She spent 10 years on the tour, winning a regional tournament at the Brunswick Zone in Deptford, sporting a 223 average and earning a diamond ring molded into a "300" pattern for rolling a perfect game in a sanctioned event.
Michele Everwine presented the ring to Josh on Thursday to commemorate his varsity debut. He wore it on a chain around his neck.
"You just hope that your child can be an inspiration to somebody," Michele Everwine said.
The crowd that milled behind Lanes 7 and 8 at the bowling alley on Creek Road off the Brooklawn circle during the match included Kingsway superintendent Jim Lavender, who called Everwine "an inspiration to the entire school," as well as principal Craig Stephenson and athletic director June Cioffi.
Josh Everwine bowled with his special Eagles ball. He's a big fan of the football team, especially Carson Wentz, but likes all the Philadelphia sports teams.
"He's a 4-for-4 guy – Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, Sixers," Chris Everwine said. "He loved Chase Utley. Now he's asking me when we're going to a Sixers game."
Josh Everwine is more than just a fan. He's an active participant. He used to excel at sled hockey, helping his team to a national title. He played Challenger-style baseball for a while. He body-surfs down the Shore and loves to ride on a jet ski.
But bowling is his game, and Kingsway is his team. He's black-and-red, the Dragons' colors, through and through.
Michele Everwine believes bowling has improved her son's focus and concentration. She said the value of his membership on the team is beyond measure.
"Josh has so much school spirit, school pride," Michele Everwine said. "He loves Kingsway. He always says, 'Once a Dragon, always a Dragon.'
"He loves being part of this team. He's always saying, 'I belong to the bowling team. I'm a high school bowler.' "