Opening Ceremony provides colorful start to Special Olympics tournament

kenyatta johnson
Lauren Demary/the PGA of America
Special Olympics World Games gold medalist Kenyatta Johnson of Fort Pierce, Fla., carried in the torch to light the Special Olympics cauldron signifying the opening of the national tournament.
By
Sherry Major

Series: PGA Feature

Published: Friday, September 23, 2011 | 12:09 a.m.

A tournament field of 177 golfers from 21 U.S. Special Olympics programs, plus programs from Bermuda and Canada, was joined by family, friends, volunteers, local dignitaries and golf organization executives from across the country to amass nearly 500 enthusiastic participants in Thursday night’s Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament.  The 12th annual tournament will be conducted at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie through Sunday, Sept. 24.

The PGA of America is a six-time host of the national tournament at PGA Golf Club and a sponsor of the Special Olympics golf program since 1988, the sport’s beginning with the global organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

2011 SPECIAL OLYMPICS GOLF TOURNAMENT

To return to our complete coverage of the 2011 Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament, click here.

Thursday’s program began with the “parade of athletes,” where teammates from 21 U.S. Special Olympics chapters marched into the opening ceremony in a tradition synonymous with the Olympics Games.  Emcee responsibilities for the event were shared by Special Olympics global messenger and Port St. Lucie athlete Alex Perry, who was joined by CBS-Channel 12’s sports personality, Pat Murphy.

Local residents shared many featured positions in the ceremony, including Malcom Harris Gowdie, a Port St. Lucie Special Olympics athlete who sang the national anthem, and Frank Vernoia, also a Port St. Lucie Special Olympics athlete, who led competitors in reciting the Special Olympics athlete’s oath.  The oath was penned in 1968 by the late Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and reads, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Honored guests included PGA of America President Allen Wronowski and CEO Joe Steranka, plus USGA Past President Dr. Trey Holland. 

“You’re going to have the ability to showcase your skills at this fantastic facility this week. Enjoy each opportunity…learn something about yourself, the sport and each other,” Wronowski told the players. “You’ve trained hard, you enjoy your good shots and you embody the spirit of the game.  We’re proud to be your partners in Special Olympics golf.”

“This is what golf is all about,” added Holland. “It’s amazing when you watch at this event, what Special Olympics athletes can do when someone gives them a chance. When I see the determination of an athlete struggling but showing the same effort on their 10th shot as when they were on the their tee shot, I think, if we all showed that same level of dedication, we’d all get a lot more accomplished.”

More than 100 volunteers from St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties will offer their time and talents over the next three days.  Volunteer chairperson Marilyn Wilson of Port St. Lucie was commended for her efforts on behalf of the community during the ceremony.

The 4th Degree Knights of Columbus and Color Guard presented the colors.  Police officers from the City of Port St. Lucie, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department and City of Fort Pierce accompanied Special Olympics World Games gold medalist Kenyatta Johnson of Fort Pierce, who carried in the torch to light the Special Olympics cauldron signifying the opening of the national tournament.

The PGA of America is joined by the USGA and PGA Tour as presenting sponsors of the Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament.  KPMG is also a Special Olympics sponsor of the event.  With the support of golf’s allied organizations, Special Olympics golf has grown to include some 18,000 athletes participating throughout North America and more than 28,000 athletes participating in golf in 25 international programs. 

The Special Olympics Golf National Invitational Tournament offers five levels of competition on the Ryder and Wanamaker Courses of PGA Golf Club, Sept. 23-25, 2011.  Medal ceremonies will take place immediately following the final round on Sunday, Sept. 25, beginning at 12:00 p.m. through approximately 3:00 p.m.  Tournament competitors also will be able to participate in a Play Golf America Clinic featuring PGA Honorary Member Dennis Walters on Friday, Sept. 23, at 2:30 p.m., and a PGA Sports Academy Skills Contest on Saturday, Sept. 24, also at 2:30 p.m.  Both events will be held at PGA Golf Club.  Additionally, this year’s tournament will be staged on Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day, Saturday, Sept. 24, when Special Olympics programs worldwide celebrate the movement’s founder.