Greensboro remembers a notable resident and Special OlympianBy Afrique I. Kilimanjaro, Editor / May 4, 2018
Share this article:Saturday was a very special day to celebrate the life of a very special person, Marty Sheets, who back in 1968 at age 15, became the first person to represent his hometown of Greensboro in the first International Special Olympics Games, held in Chicago. Sheets was posthumously honored on Saturday, April 28, with the unveiling of a street topper naming Desoto Place, the street where he grew up, “Marty Sheets Way.”
Katie Nordeen, Fox 8 News anchor and member of the N.C. Special Olympics Board, served as the emcee of the event which was live-streamed on the N.C. Special Olympics Facebook page. Present to celebrate the occasion were friends, family members, neighbors and admirers of Marty, who on all accounts was an exceptional person, who had a big impact on Greensboro and helped open doors of opportunity for many people with special needs.
John Horshok, the original manager of Special Olympics for Coca-Cola, USA, said “Marty Sheets was a pioneer and many think it was because he broke many barriers. He broke barriers and opened the minds and hearts of many people.”
Also in attendance was Dr. Tom Songster, special assistant to the founder of International Special Olympics; Lem Cox, the first director of Camp Joy for Greensboro Parks and Recreation; Frank Starling, coach of the 1968 Special Olympics Team N.C.; Gene Banks, former NBA basketball great, Duke standout and a Special Olympics volunteer; Robbie Perkins, former mayor of Greensboro; and city council members Marikay Abuzuaiter and Justin Outling, who presented a resolution to the sheets family from the City of Greensboro.
“This is where Special Olympics was founded in Greensboro N.C. thanks to the efforts of people here and Marty,” said Nordeen. In 1999, Greensboro served as a Special Olympics “Host Town Committee.” Supporters raised more than $250,000 to provide training and host visiting delegations from eight countries that would participate in the International Special Olympics Games held in Raleigh.During the inaugural 1968 games, Marty was presented a medal for “Courage” by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, who sought Marty out during those games and was quite fond of him. By all accounts Marty loved sports and the Special Olympics, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer in Seattle, Wa. The Special Olympics offered him a world stage in which to showcase his athletic ability. With a supportive family by his side, Marty went on to compete in swimming, weight lifting, skiing, tennis and golf, winning more than 250 medals and awards. Seven of those medals were won at six Special Olympics World Games.
In 1987, Marty was able to lead the U.S. delegation of athletes into the stadium at the Special Olympics World Games in South Bend, Ind. with John Denver. In 1995, he sat with former President Bill Clinton during the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics World Games in New Haven, Conn. By 2000, with a plethora of accomplishments on and off the athletic field, Marty received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, from former Governor Jim Hunt and the honors did not stop. In 2006, Marty was named the PGA Tour Volunteer of the Year for his service during the Wyndham Golf Championship. Marty has also been inducted into the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
Marty died in 2015 at the age of 62. Today, a portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, which shows her smiling at Marty along with other Special Olympians, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. as a testament to the spirit of all Special Olympians and their ardent supporters.
When asked what Marty would say about having a street designated in his name, his father, Dave, replied, “Honestly, Marty would say, ‘Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
For more information on the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, visit the Special Olympics Web site: https://www.specialolympics.org/50th.aspx