Special Olympics of Orange County recently selected two golfers to compete in a national tournament. As exciting as this is for coach John Kessler and his group of volunteer coaches, they are equally excited for the other athletes who are working on their games and more during the practice season.
Dani Kinert and Darrell Schwartz were selected to travel to the Wigwam Resort in Glendale, Ariz., Thursday to compete in the GIT after qualifying. Both won gold medals in the state competition, and had their names drawn from a lottery for nationals, according to coach John Kessler.
Kinert, 29, of Chapel Hill, is competing with her father, Tom Kinert, in the alternate- shot competition, in which each member of the team of two alternates shots until the hole is completed.
Schwartz, a 46-year-old Chapel Hill resident, is competing in the individual nine-hole tournament. Im really excited, said Schwartz.
Not every athlete will have a chance to go to a national tournament. Many will never even play outside of the eight annual, organized practices during the Special Olympics fall season.
Your story should be about all the other kids, not just the ones going to nationals, said Nick Nickerson of Chapel Hill, whose son Adam, 23, is one of the athletes.
My interest is getting my son out to be social and have fun. He was very happy for both athletes who were chosen to play, but doesnt believe this kind of serious competition is for everyone. Its mostly about fun, most of the athletes out here dont want to play with that pressure.
Ray Scisms son, Taras, was one of the youngest athletes at practice. Scism, from Hillsborough, added, Its nice to come out to a safe environment and watch him have fun and not have to worry.
Mark Eide of Mebane was at the practice supporting his 18-year-old son, Erik. Erik is out here to mix and mingle. He added that although some of the athletes are much older, Erik has developed a good relationship with many of the younger athletes.
Erik attends Orange High with Caleb Ivey. Iveys mother, Michelle Ivey, said the Special Olympics are great for improving the athletes socialization skills.
Joey Kessler, whose father, John, is the coach, is one of the athletes who liked the competition enough to pick up golf competitively. He attended nationals last year in Nebraska.
It was a good course. My dad came with me, he was my caddy, said Joey. He said he doesnt get nervous, he just hits it. Nationals was fun, but just practicing is a lot of fun, too.
Erik Eide just wants to be good enough to play with his grandpa, his father said.
That type of motivation is just fine with coach Kessler, as well as the volunteer coaches. There is a wide variety of skill levels we see, said Dana McDonald, a volunteer for four years.
Schwartz is one of the more advanced golfers. Ive been playing golf for a long time, he said. Schwartz, who also enjoys playing basketball, has a lot of favorite clubs, but likes his four iron the most at the moment. When asked about any nerves at nationals, he responded, I always get nervous, but I just walk up to the ball and breathe. Schwartz added that he loves practicing as well, and that he appreciates all of the time coach Kessler gives to the athletes. His stance on competing in the Special Olympics was pretty clear. Its downright fun, he said.
The athletes arent the only ones having fun. Working with the athletes is a great experience, said McDonald. They are so positive, fun-loving and encouraging to each other. You can be having the worst day, then come to practice and feel better and be reenergized, their positive energy is contagious.
Fulcher had the same feelings and added that Colleen Lanigan, the Special Olympics director, and John Kessler do a great job with the athletes and really get to know them.
Kessler doesnt look only at it as getting to know the athletes. For me, its meeting some of the greatest people in the world. That goes for both the athletes and coaches.
He also loves seeing athletes confidence grow on the course. I think that confidence on the course and on the field leads to more confidence in life. Kessler also added that none of the golf would take place without the cooperation of the Occoneeche Golf Course in Hillsborough. Theyve been really great, he said.
As the practice ended, Kessler gathered the athletes and they wished Schwartz and Kinert good luck. Whether they win gold seems unimportant, they are sure to have a great time. And if that werent enough, Nickerson informed me, in the Special Olympics, everybody gets a medal.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.