WESLEY CHAPEL — The tournament at Lexington Oaks Country Club attracted scores of golfers who wanted to raise money for the Special Olympics — and three who will benefit from it.
For the first time, a couple of Special Olympians were sponsored to play in the annual golf tournament that raises money for the Pasco games.
"A lot of charity tournaments that people play in, they never see the people they are going to help," family coordinator Tina Gignac said at Saturday's event. "We wanted to give people the chance to meet our athletes and show them who their money will benefit.
"A lot of these kids participate in Special Olympics to prove that they can do anything," she added. "You can see a feeling of accomplishment on their faces when they do these things, and these fundraisers are how we make all that possible."
People with disabilities are not charged to participate in any Special Olympics events, so organizers rely on fundraisers to cover the costs.
The 11 previous golf tournaments have been held in west Pasco, but with this year's tournament organizer, Judy Brunner, living in Zephyrhills, the event migrated east.
"I think it was good to have the tournament over here on this side of the county, because it got a lot of new sponsors involved in it," Brunner said. "This was a whole new batch of people that have now contributed to Special Olympics, so it was good to get new people out to support it."
The golf tournament, which drew a field of 80, was played just weeks before the Special Olympics summer season.
"This is our major fundraiser for the year, so it's a big deal for our athletes," Brunner said. "We have 900 athletes all over the county, and several different sports throughout the season. Events like these are crucial to making that happen. In Pasco, we have one of the strongest Special Olympic programs in the state, particularly when it comes to team sports."
A day in the sun in the name of a good cause appeals to a lot of people, but for the Special Olympians it was a new experience and a chance to demonstrate their skills.
"It's my first time playing and I really like the course," Special Olympian golfer Mike Sheppard said. "I think everyone does a great job of setting it up and getting people to come. I'm having a lot of fun out here with everyone."
David Rice can be reached at email@example.com.