Kurt Lawton, a 2006 Greenbrier graduate, was one of many high school athletes from the state of Georgia who packed their bags and headed off to compete in sports at the college level.
Unlike most of the athletes from Georgia, Lawton had to travel across the entire country to find a team that would take him. It had nothing to do with ability and everything to do with opportunity.
"I thought it was terrible that I had to leave all my friends in Georgia and start all over out here," said Lawton, now beginning his second year as a student at the University of Arizona. "I knew three people out of 40,000 when I first got here."
Lawton, who has cerebral palsy, is a wheelchair athlete. In high school he excelled at basketball and rugby as a part of the local BlazeSports chapter, an organization that fields teams and leagues.
Although the youth program has experienced interest and growth for years, that same concept hasn't caught on at the college level in Georgia. No Georgia colleges or universities field wheelchair sports teams outside of intramurals.
Lawton, who was good enough in rugby to receive scholarship offers from Arizona and Alabama, had to leave his home state to play on a team that competes nationally.
After experiencing the three-day road trips and loneliness of living away from his family and friends, Lawton decided to do something about it. He contacted State Rep. Ben Harbin.
"I basically went by his office because I wanted him to know about BlazeSports in Georgia, and that it's a terrible shame to have such a good youth program but have nowhere to go for college," Lawton said.
His dilemma shocked Harbin.
"It surprised me because we love sports in Georgia, and we have a young man who could go across state lines to Alabama and compete at a college level nationally, but he couldn't stay in his own state and do it," Harbin said.
They met last fall. Harbin has now created a legislative study committee to look into the problem. The committee met for the first time Aug. 20 at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in Warm Springs, Ga., and will meet again later this month at Georgia Southern University.
Two more committee meetings have been scheduled, and Harbin said he's already starting to see progress.
"We have to have a full report out of the study committee by the end of the year," he said. "If we require legislation we'll have that legislation during this next session, but we may not require it. What we may find is the board of regents may be able to do this without legislation, get this implemented and hopefully within the next school year or so we start having athletes recruited so we can compete."
Although it's too late for Lawton, the Grovetown resident said he was pleased with the action that has been taken so far.
Harbin said none of it would have happened without Lawton's initial step.
"Kurt Lawton is a great kid and really deserves all the credit for this," Harbin said. "He told me about something I was not aware of."
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