HIGH POINT — Athletes from Surry County fared well at the Special Olympics Fall Tournament.
On Nov. 4 through Nov. 6, Surry County sent more than 21 athletes to High Point to compete in the annual Fall Tournament, according to Surry County Parks and Recreation employee Bradley Key. Eighteen participants returned home having placed in the top four in their events.
Key said events included bocce, basketball and golf. Though the county is only permitted to send one team in each event, more than 50 athletes took advantage of the opportunity to practice and socialize in the months leading up to the Fall Tournament.
The tournament is one of two competitions at the state level which athletes can attend, said Key. The other is the state’s Summer Games. Surry County also holds a Spring Games, hosted at one of the five high schools in the county. Hundreds of athletes participate in the Spring Games.
Key said he was quite proud of the showing at the Fall Tournament. Jeff Epperson, playing with unified partner Russell Yopp, scored a bronze medal in an alternating shot golf event hosted at the tournament, and Stephen Flippin and unified partner Matthew Shinault scored a fourth place ribbon in the event.
Key explained in alternate shot play the athlete and unified partner take turns hitting the ball from one shot to the next.
In team play, Larry Parker and unified partner Eddie Harrison walked away from the links with a gold medal, and Dale Mitchell and unified partner Charles Wilkes earned silver.
Jared Watts earned a gold medal for his first place finish in bocce singles play, and Leigh Ann Goldbaugh and Neal Joyner left High Point with silvers for their play in bocce doubles.
Surry County athletes also fared well on the court. In basketball, the Surry “Bull Dawgs,” a three-on-three team consisting of Eden Draughn, Levi Early, Margie Emry, Lolita Evans, Delissa Moore and Dylan O’Neal, earned silver medals.
Key said Special Olympics has also been tinkering with a new division for basketball play. Masters division athletes are athletes who still possess an ability to play the game, but who may have aged out of an ability to run as they once did.
Surry County did well in that division too. Key said the team of Dennis Batts, Michael Felts, David Johnson and Donald Overby earned a third place finish at the Fall Tournament.
Key said his department is committed to creating opportunities for Special Olympics athletes to participate in athletics. Events serve as exercise and opportunities to socialize, particularly a three-day event such as the Fall Tournament.
“On day one teams and athletes are divided by skill level, and on Saturday they compete,” explained Key. “On Saturday night there is a party, and on Sunday they play championship rounds.”
Key said the party is often the event which athletes remember best. Many enjoy dancing and socializing as much as participating in their sports. Throughout the three days athletes pay nothing. Lodging, transportation and meals are provided.
“Many of these athletes live in group homes,” said Key. “They might not get the chance to travel often. Special Olympics provides that opportunity cost-free.”
While the larger events at the state level create enjoyable opportunities for athletes, Key noted the county is only permitted to send so many athletes to such events. Thus, his department has been working to expand its footprint at the local level, offering competition between Surry County athletes and those from neighboring counties.
“It’s important that we continue to provide as many opportunities as possible for these people to participate and socialize,” said Key.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.