Golfers, special athletes compete in golf tourney

Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 29, 2012

Special Olympics athlete Shaquille “Shaq” Williams high-fives George Hude, left, after putting on the 12th hole Saturday morning during the annual golf tournament that benefits Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)


NATCHEZ — Shaquille Williams arrived late to the eighth annual Mississippi Area 7 Special Olympics golf tournament Saturday afternoon.

That meant that Shaq, as they call him, wasn’t able to pair up with his assigned team at Duncan Park. So Shaq decided to switch to Gary Farmer’s team instead — for about two minutes.

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Then some familiar faces convinced Shaq to join their team instead.

“Shaq’s a putter. He’s been making all the putts,” said George Hude, who played for the Jordan Carriers team.

Shaq said the familiarity with the Jordan Carriers group made him want to go with them.

“Two years ago I was on his team,” Shaq said. “They said they had to have Shaq.”

Shaq, who participates in the Area 7 Special Olympics, is just one example of the teams enjoying the company of a special athlete, said golf tournament co-chairman Ricky Warren.

This year’s tournament maxed out with 24, and Warren said he thinks the chance for these teams to play golf with a special athlete is one of the main reasons they keep coming back.

“I think they enjoy the happiness of the kids,” Warren said. “These kids don’t know anything but love, and they don’t know the problems going on in the world.”

The four-man scramble tournament is designed to raise money for the Area 7 Special Olympics, and Warren said the volunteers and donors know they’re putting their time and money toward a good cause.

“The main thing is it’s for the kids,” Warren said. “People know it’s for a good cause. Without this, the kids wouldn’t be able to participate in the events that they do.”

Nor would Shaq get to show off his golf skills to his friends at Jordan Carriers. Those skills, Shaq said, are courtesy of his father, Ken Griffin.

“My daddy brought me out here,” Shaq said. “Daddy taught me how to putt. He taught me all of this.”

United Mississippi Bank’s team also enjoyed time with their special athlete Roeeskita Johnson. Johnson said she was doing well playing gold Saturday.

“I hit the ball really hard and hit it in the hole,” Johnson said.

UMB team member Agnes Holloway said they always make sure to request that Johnson be on their team.

“She started playing with us, and she’s part of our team,” Holloway said. “We look for her every year.”

And getting to play with Holloway and the others is something Johnson said she enjoys.

“It’s very fun,” Johnson said. “They teach me to keep my eye on the ball and hit it in the hole.”

Special athlete Tony Gamberi, who said he’s been participating in the golf tournament for four years, said Special Olympics has allowed him to make lots of friends.

“I like being around (Area 7 director) Tommie Jones, and my girlfriend Kristy Sikes,” Gamberi said.

Gamberi, who’s about to turn 20, said Sikes has been his girlfriend since he was 18.

“I love her. It’s true love. We won’t break up,” Gamberi said.