Sam Chamberlain was due to catch a pop fly.
“We knew it was going to happen soon, we just didn’t know when,” said Frances Early, coach of the Surry County Special Olympics softball team.
During a critical encounter – in the process of winning the bronze medal game of the Special Olympics North America Softball Championship – the catcher made the play he had been working toward for nearly a decade.
“He actually caught two,” Early said.
It was a big moment for Chamberlain.
“You would have thought he won the lottery,” said Early, noting that it was also a big moment for the team as a whole.
The local athletes had advanced to the international level of competition for the first time after winning gold in the state tournament held in June.
The were selected in a lottery of gold medal winners to participate in the three-day event that began Aug. 18 in facilities near Roanoke, Virginia.
The team had started out strong, winning both games played that Friday and the first of two on Saturday.
Then, the Surry County squad lost to a team from Ontario, Canada, in their second game Saturday and lost again Sunday morning to a team from a higher division.
In their final game of the tournament, vying for the bronze, they faced the Canadian team that had defeated them the day before.
“It got them down Sunday morning,” the coach admitted. “Their spirits were pretty low.”
But the team rallied, winning 11-7, earning the bronze medal.
“Words can’t really describe,” said Early. “It was awesome because they really played their hearts out.”
The Surry County ball players were among 15 “traditional” teams made up entirely of athletes.
About 13 “unified” teams, which are comprised of equal numbers of athletes and non-athletes, also participated.
Teams, which for this tournament hailed from within and beyond the United States, are sorted into divisions according to their abilities.
A celebration is planned for September to honor the team’s successes in the state and international level.
Early has coached the team for five years and has been involved since her now 16-year-old son Levi began with the sport at age 8.
She said just being at the international tournament for the first time was exciting.
“The complex was just out of this world,” the coach said of the top-notch facilities, which wowed them with luxuries such as restrooms in the dugouts.
“That was something we were just not used to,” but they might get a crack at again next year.
Said Early: “We hope!”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.