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Athletes hit courts, lanes at Special Olympics

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- DeVonte Young walked proudly.

The Northside Elementary School fourth-grader couldn't contain his happiness as he displayed a broad smile.

DeVonte walked in front of Northside's colorful banner that read "Northside is Striking for Success." Northside was one of the many Dougherty County School System schools and other organizations participating in the Special Olympics Dougherty Indoor Winter Games at Albany State University's HPER Gym Friday morning.

More than 280 athletes were scheduled to compete in the one-day event, Special Olympics Dougherty Athlete Trainer Coach Henry Hill said. The Dougherty County School System had about 210 athletes competing in the games and Lee County had 15 athletes. There were about 50 master's athletes over 21 who also participated.

Athletes competed in basketball games, basketball skills and bowling. The games were held at three sites. Besides Albany State, the bowling was held at AMF Albany Bowl-A-Rama Lanes and All American Fun Park.

The Special Olympics Dougherty Indoor Winter Games opening ceremonies featured cheerleaders from Dougherty and Monroe comprehensive high schools, singing by Monroe's chorale and the Albany Marine Band.

With help from DCSS police officer William Johnson, Albany ARC's Jimmy Hasty ran in front of the crowd with the Special Olympics flame before lighting the torch in the middle of the gym.

"I've never lit the flame before," said Hasty, 46, who has competed in Special Olympics since he was a child. "It felt great (because) it was my first time."

Hill then revved up the athletes further for the event by asking them three times, "Are You Ready?" Each time the crowd got louder before Hill finally bellowed into a microphone, "Let the Games Begin." The Albany Marine Band followed Hill's announcement by playing an abbreviated version of John Williams' familiar "Olympic Fanfare."

Hill, who has trained Dougherty Special Olympic athletes for the past nine years, said he receives "instant gratification" from working with the competitors.

"The thing is, I put myself in their position," Hill said. "I want someone to have the sympathy of taking out the time for me in athletics. My mother (Pearlie Mae Hill) did this for 42 years. As a kid growing up, I was growing up with them. It's just a part of my life and I have a passion for it."

Four games of basketball were contested at Friday's event. The first game was between the Albany Flames, representing Albany ARC, and Lee County School System athletes.

The Albany Flames led 14-1 at halftime before winning the game 24-7. Murphy Golden scored eight of the Flames 14 first-half points in the first seven minutes of the 10-minute half.

"Luck," Golden said of his early points. "It felt really good to make those shots. We try our best. (We did) really good."

Teammate Emery Graham contributed to the victory by nailing a pair of second-half three-pointers.

"I was feeling it. It felt nice coming off my hand," said Graham, 28, competing in his third Special Olympics. "I practice about three hours a day (with) 75 percent shooting free throws and three-pointers, and 25 percent is jump shots."

Lee Count High School senior Vincent Van Vleet said his team struggled to get into a rhythm.

"We did OK, but our shots were a little off," said Van Vleet, the manager for the high school's basketball team. "We turned the ball over sometimes. We were not focusing and were rushing our shots. They were really good."

First-year Albany Flames coach Anthony Mincey said he was impressed with his players' effort.

"They really try and they really try hard to win," he said. "All of them have pretty good skill and all of them have something special about them."

Special Olympics Dougherty Coordinator Karen Beasley said she had

122 volunteers to help the Indoor Winter Games run smoothly -- with more than 100 of those coming from the Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.

"I don't know what we would've done without them," she said.

Special Olympics Dougherty Games and Competition Coordinator Dan Land said Dougherty County has local competitions in the winter and spring. The state sponsors Special Olympic events in the fall, winter and summer.