Greenbrier County Special Olympics: an invitation to get involved


Greenbrier County Special Olympics athletes Josh Miller and Joseph Canterbury share a smile with Santa Claus at the Greenbrier Bowling Alley after last year’s Cannon Ball Bowling Tournament.
Greenbrier County Special Olympics athletes Josh Miller and Joseph Canterbury share a smile with Santa Claus at the Greenbrier Bowling Alley after last year’s Cannon Ball Bowling Tournament.

By Emily Cruse

I became involved in the Greenbrier County Special Olympics in the spring of 2009 because of my brother, Joseph, who is deaf and Down syndrome. I wanted to give something back to Joseph for always being my biggest fan when I played sports growing up. Most people in the community know Joseph. He puts a smile on everyone’s face and is an encouragement to all.

I contacted the Greenbrier County Special Olympics director, Tammy Fraley, and told her my story.

After the first practice, I realized I wasn’t just doing this for Joseph. I quickly fell in love with all of the athletes. When we went to the games in Charleston, Joseph and another of our athletes were competing in the 100 meter dash. Of course, I was rooting for Joseph, but I also yelled for his competitor. A few feet from the finish line the other athlete fell hard. It worried me and I saw him look at me like he messed up. After seeing he was going to be okay, my mother and I just began cheering for him to get up and finish the race. Without a tear, he jumped up and finished fourth place. Another athlete was racing in his wheel chair. I ran beside him and he pushed harder and harder. I knew he was in pain, but he never let anything stop him.

The pledge of the Special Olympics says, “If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” These athletes followed through with their pledge. As the athletes were being decorated with ribbons and medals, the athlete receiving the gold medal began to yell in his special voice, “I did it! I did it!” My heart was so overjoyed because these athletes are so happy. How many of us would have jumped up and finished a race?

After my experience at the Special Olympics, I saw how happy it made the athletes to participate – and me as well. I decided this was what I wanted to do with my life – to set up an event to reach those who could not attend the state games. There are so many people in our local community who have never had the opportunity to participate in the state Special Olympics. There are a few reasons for this: lack of funding, lack of family/friend support, and/or health issues that keep the athlete from being able to ride that far.

As I began dreaming of how to do this, Phil Johnson (at the time, the manager at the Greenbrier Bowling Alley) said, “Well, why not start?” Together we worked to plan the first tournament at the bowling alley in December 2009. After the death of my grandfather, who was such a proud supporter of Joseph in anything he did, we decided to name it, “The Cannon Ball Bowling Tournament” in memory of Kenneth Canterbury.

The Canon Ball Bowling Tournament soon became a family thing. My mother, Rebecca Canterbury became actively involved in the planning and supporting the event and now leads volunteers. My dad, Wayne Canterbury, leads fundraising for the event, Joseph Canterbury participates and helps set up and clean up the event, and Eva Toney leads volunteers in crafts. We are so glad that it has extended further. Every year volunteers from the Rainelle Christian Academy participate by serving, escorting, and cheering the athletes.

This year the Cannon Ball Bowling Tournament will be held on Dec. 18. The participating athletes will need to be pre-registered by Nov. 8 (they cannot participate if not registered). Athletes need to be present by 9:30 a.m. at the Greenbrier Bowling Center on the morning of Dec. 18. After the tournament, we will have a community tournament in which anyone may participate as a team or as an individual. The cost is $18 per person. There will be trophies and shirts awarded to the winners, and plenty of food, crafts and Christmas presents, and photos taken of the athletes with Santa Claus. All money made will go to support more Greenbrier County events. For more information, contact Emily Cruse at 843-870-3052 or Rebecca Canterbury at 304-667-8957.

We would like to say a special thanks to Phil Johnson and John Miller (helping to organize teams this year), the agencies, Donna Goddard (owner of Dream Weaver), Tiffany Fraley (athlete who sings the most amazing version of the Star Spangled Banner), Tammy Fraley (who orders our awards), all the students of the Rainelle Christian Academy and many others who make this possible.

Each year as Christmas time rolls around, we all begin worrying about gifts, money, credit cards and all the other holiday stress. This prevents people from enjoying the true meaning of Christmas. Instead, we invite you to come be a part of the community by giving back this year. I guarantee even Scrooge would leave the Cannon Ball Bowling Tournament in the Christmas spirit. Every year, I hear at least one athlete say, “This is the best day of my life.” Hearing those words really puts things in a better perspective for me as I’m sure it would for you too.

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