MOULTRIE -- Grant Hammack was preparing to leave the recent Special Olympics Georgia Leadership Conference in Duluth and head back to Moultrie for a function at his church when a Special Olympics Georgia staff member told him it would be in his best interest if he stayed for the Distinguished Service Awards banquet.

Hammack, the longtime Colquitt County Special Olympics coordinator, said he had not planned to stay for the banquet, had not brought the appropriate clothes and really needed to get back to Moultrie.

But when the state Special Olympics staff member again strongly encouraged him to stay, Hammack got the idea there was a pretty good reason for him to be in attendance.

And he was right.

Colquitt County Special Olympics received the state's Outstanding Local Program Award for 2002-2003.

The award, one of 10 presented at the annual state banquet, goes to the program that best exemplifies the Special Olympics spirit and provides a well-developed year-round program for the athletes, their families, coaches and volunteers.

Hammack, who has coordinated the Colquitt County Special Olympics program for 22 years, said receiving the award was an honor especially for the local management team and the volunteers who help make the program successful.

"It's such a comprehensive award," Hammack said. "It's a tribute to all the people who have put in so many hours."

Colquitt County Special Olympics is operated by a manpeople from the community who meet once a month to plan events and raise funds.

"They are the ones who put it all together," Hammack said.

Hammack said programs are judged on the number of sports offered, how the program is organized, numbers of athletes and partners involved and how its games are run.

"They cover every aspect of the program," Hammack said.

The Colquitt County program was cited for its increasing numbers, which now included some 900 athletes and partners.

It also was applauded for starting the first Special Olympics bicycle motocross program in the country.

In addition, three Colquitt countians are involved in the programs at the state level.

Larry Richardson is the state director for roller skating; Beau Sherman, holds the similar position for BMX; and Hammack for floor hockey.

"We are a program that's very visible in the state," Hammack said.

The Colquitt County program also has been involved in the Special Olympics World Games, with Hammack taking several teams to compete at the international level.

"I was sort of surprised (by the award)," Hammack said. "But in a way, I wasn't.

"We feel like we have one of the best programs. We've got a great base of support and great volunteers."

Hammack said the local program is current preparing its athletes for the fall State Games, to be held Oct. 24-26 in Gainesville and for the fund-raising supper to be held at the Willie J. Williams Middle School cafeteria on Friday, Oct. 24, before the Colquitt County-Lee County Homecoming football game.

The area Winter Games are scheduled for Nov. 21.

The other awards presented were:

Athlete of the Year, Steve Lyons, Peach County.

Spirit of Special Olympics, David A. Wren, Lee County.

Outstanding Adult Volunteer, Verna King, Peach County.

Outstanding Youth Volunteer, Jordan Michelle Youngblood, Peach County.

Outstanding Coach Award, Kim Carroll, Banks County.

Outstanding Grassroots Support from a Business on a local or area level, Junction Lanes Bowling Center, Coweta County.

Outstanding organization, Hazlehurst Rotary Club.

Outstanding Local Coordinator, Lynnette Swanson, Gwinnett County.

Outstanding Media Support, WALB-TV Channel 10, Dougherty County.

Special Olympics Georgia is a non-profit organization that provides year-round competition for Georgia Athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Made up of more than 22,350 athletes and 15,000 volunteers, Special Olympics Georgia holds several major events, including statewide Summer, Fall and Winter Games and regional competitions.

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