It only takes a few moments of conversation with Ennice resident Eric Murphy to realize he is passionate about sports. An avid reader of newspaper sports pages, he is an encyclopedia of statistics on individual players and teams ranging from basketball to NASCAR. But Eric is much more than a casual observer, he is an active athlete through Alleghany County’s Special Olympics program.
A 2008 graduate of Alleghany County High School, Eric became an integral part of Friday night football games when his parents, Larry and Velinda, had a Trojan mascot costume designed and made for Eric. His contribution to rallying the crowds in support the players on the field helped earn him the Trojan Team Award during his senior year.
The Murphy’s involvement with Special Olympics began when they heard of a bowling program in Ashe County. Larry is a bowler. He thought it would be a good activity for him and Eric to do together. Each Sunday, the family would leave church in Galax and make the drive to the bowling alley in Ashe County. They came to enjoy the camaraderie with the other families and athletes. When a program was started in Alleghany County, they shifted back closer to home.
There are approximately 25-30 athletes in the Alleghany program, ranging from 9 to 65 years of age. They play Bocce ball (a sport originated in ancient Rome), basketball, bowling, and track and field events. When asked why he enjoys those activities, Eric said, “I like hanging out with my friends and I love sports.” He added, “I would be lost without Special Olympics.”
Eric is a fixture around the Sparta Square shopping center. He is approaching his ninth anniversary of employment with Burger King where works as a cook and helps out with cleaning the dining area. He said he loves his job and has a well deserved pride in the quality of the food he prepares for others. Velinda hears from many people in the community that they frequent Burger King just to hang out and talk sports with Eric (Eric spends much of his days off just visiting in Burger King). She said that Eric knows everyone at Food Lion and Hardees, and that they all know him. Eric laughed and added that the employees at Hardees tease him by calling him a traitor when he stops by some mornings for gravy and biscuits while wearing his Burger King uniform.
As Eric and Velinda describe his day to day life and activities, it is apparent that it requires a community effort to offset the challenges faced by many in our community. When Eric receives his work schedule from Burger King, he forwards it to Alleghany in Motion who helps with his transportation to work. The Alleghany Wellness Center welcomes (at no charge) the Special Olympians to their facility each Thursday for nutritional counseling and athletic activities as part of their Healthy Athlete program. Former Alleghany School superintendent Kim Mattox awarded Eric a lifetime athletic pass to school events, a pass Eric fully utilizes.
On March 25th our community has another opportunity to assist these athletes. The 2017 Polar Plunge will be held at Lake Louise in Roaring Gap. This event is the primary fundraiser for Alleghany County’s Special Olympics. Those willing to take the plunge or make a donation can do so by following this link. Eric is looking forward to his first dash into the icy waters and has a goal of raising at least $250.
Velinda sums up Special Olympics this way: “It is a blessing that we have this program in our county. It gives these kids – I call them all kids regardless of age – a way to get together with their peers and have fun in an environment where they aren’t judged by what they can’t do. Eric is fortunate. If he didn’t have Special Olympics he would still get to bowl with his dad or go to ballgames. Many of the others aren’t that lucky. This program helps keep them active, and provides the social and physical outlets they need for healthy lives.”
Want to help? In addition to registering for the Polar Plunge or donating online, feel free to contact the following volunteers to see how you can contribute to this program.
BJ Edwards 336-306-4555
Linda Tucker 336-372-5432
Lillis Ward 336-529-3133