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Special Olympians are ready to shine

Charlie Newsome is a Special Olympics Hall of Fame athlete who counts Karl Malone as a friend and supporter.
Charlie Newsome is a Special Olympics Hall of Fame athlete who counts Karl Malone as a friend and supporter.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

More than three decades of passion is bound to pay off for Charlie Newsome as he steps onto the basketball court today in pursuit of yet another gold medal.

Newsome, who has 258 medals carefully tucked away in a dresser drawer, is one of 750 athletes from across Utah who is participating in the Special Olympics Fall Sports Classic, which opens today and concludes Saturday at the University of Utah.

The Kearns resident, who is mentally challenged, said he figures to stop competing when he hits 300. But until then, he's — in every sense of the word — having a ball.

There's memories of his good buddy Karl Malone, one of several then-Utah Jazz players who years ago took Newsome under their wing because of his charm, graciousness and, most importantly, stellar basketball skills.

"I play guard, forward and center," he said. "I told myself a long time ago I wish I was an NBA basketball player and could make a million dollars."

While that wish hasn't come true, Newsome was inducted into the Special Olympics Hall of Fame several years ago, an honor he displays on his wall not far from a pair of athletic shoes given to him by Malone.

Newsome, 43, has been competing since he won his first medal at 13 and belongs to the Hartvigsen Howlers Special Olympics team.

Special Olympics spokeswoman Charlene Johnson said Newsome is one of those natural athletes with skill and character.

"He's an absolutely amazing basketball player," she said. "I have never seen him miss a shot and I think he is a great representation of what our Special Olympic athletes can do if given the chance. He has a really big heart."

Aside from basketball, athletes participating in the three-day event will compete in bocce, aquatics, gymnastics and power lifting. Once qualified in preliminary events, the competitors have to put in eight weeks of training.

Johnson said participants range from people like Newsome, whose disabilities are not physical, to those who are in wheelchairs and unable to speak.

"Most of these athletes practice a couple of times a week with their team, and many of them do training on their own so they can be as ready as possible for their competition," Johnson said. "They just put their whole heart and soul into it."

And while grabbing the gold is certainly an achievement, it isn't necessarily the focus of the event.

"They all want to win a gold medal, but if they don't, it's OK," Johnson said. "Their goal is to be their best and as long as they do that, they are winners."

Volunteers are needed at events

The 2004 Special Olympics Utah Fall Sports Classic is in need of volunteers to assist with events. To help out, go to Olympic Town near the Salt Lake University Institute of Religion, 1780 E. South Campus Drive, near the University of Utah campus.