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Tournament raises money for local Special Olympics events

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Golfer Jim Hargon, left, shares a laugh with Special Olympics athlete Chandler Warren during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Golfer Jim Hargon, left, shares a laugh with Special Olympics athlete Chandler Warren during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.

By Josh Bergeron

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — With golf cart engines whirring, a pack of excited golfers and Special Olympians took off from the Duncan Park Golf Course to hit the greens Saturday as a part of the ninth-annual Benefit

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Golfer Kenneth Jenkins, left, offers putting tips to Special Olympics athlete Michael Jackson during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Golfer Kenneth Jenkins, left, offers putting tips to Special Olympics athlete Michael Jackson during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.

Golf Scramble.

The event is the main fundraiser for Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 — which covers Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Wilkinson and Amite counties. The golf scramble raises money through donations and covers expenses for Area 7 Special Olympic events, according to Director Tommie Jones.

“Because of the golf tournament we are able to send our athletes skiing, swimming and all other special Olympic events,” Jones said. “(The fundraiser is) incredibly important because it covers just about all of our expenses. In fact, we leave May 10 to go to Biloxi for the state’s Summer Special Olympics.”

The tournament raised more than $17,000 in 2012, but didn’t set a financial goal for 2013. Treasurer Connie Gamberi said her goal is to break the previous year’s amount.

Before the tournament began, Jones gathered the Olympians for a pre-tournament speech.

“Alright, everybody let me hear you,” she prompted the athletes. “Let me win.”

The athletes responded resoundingly, repeating the chant.

After a brief prayer, the cavalcade of golf carts departed to begin the tournament.

Each of the 23 teams paired Olympians with recreational golfers. Teams were sponsored by various local businesses. One particularly charismatic team featured an Olympian whose nickname is Shaq.

“His name is Shaquille Williams, but he goes by Shaq,” said his golf partner George Hude. “You’ve heard of Shaq haven’t you? He is going to win the whole thing.”

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Fellow golfers look on as Special Olympics athlete Maggie Burns attempts a putt during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Fellow golfers look on as Special Olympics athlete Maggie Burns attempts a putt during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.

Williams openly displayed his excitement. He jumped around and smiled when talking about golf. Williams said he enjoyed hitting the ball from the fairway more than putting from the green. But he wasn’t the only one with a smile on his face.

“I have a lot of fun coming out here,” former District 37 Senator Bob M. Dearing said. “To see these people come out and participate and to see the tremendous support in the community, it’s just a great thing to see.”

One of the tournament’s methods of raising money is selling raffle tickets for numbered golf balls. Shortly after lunch, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office dropped the balls from a helicopter onto the first hole.

Though the event’s organizers planned to hand out one $3,000 prize, two balls landed side-by-side in the hole. As a result, Natchez residents Josh Blaney and Ruben Rogers split the money, receiving $1,500 each.

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Cornelius Lewis, right, drives a golf cart with Special Olympics athlete Michael Jackson during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Cornelius Lewis, right, drives a golf cart with Special Olympics athlete Michael Jackson during the annual golf scramble to benefit Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7 on Saturday at Duncan Park Golf Course in Natchez.

Once golfers wrapped up the tournament, organizers divided the field into three groups to announce winners.

“The championship flight is the people who shot the lowest scores,” event organizer Ricky Warren said. “There are two other categories. The categories are determined by dividing the scores into three groups.”

The Natchez Bus Terminal Team won the championship flight with a score of 55. Pearl Street Pasta also scored a 55, but came in second because of a tie-break scenario. River City Diesel won the second flight, and Natchez Community Hospital won the third flight.

As the golf scramble drew to a close, Warren reflected on the event’s nine years.

“I’d say the event has been fairly successful,” he said. “But we are hoping to step it up next year and do something special for the 10th anniversary.”