When Georgia's collegiate sports finally catch up with the rest of the country, Kurt Lawton deserves the credit for making it happen - but by then it will be too late for him to derive any of the benefit.
Lawton is an athlete - a very good one, excelling in basketball and rugby. It just so happens that, because of cerebral palsy, he relies on a wheelchair to provide mobility on the court or the pitch.
As Lawton approached graduation from Greenbrier High School last year, like a lot of other athletes at that sports-heavy school he was looking forward to continuing competition at the college level.
Unfortunately, he found that Georgia's colleges don't offer sports for handicapped athletes beyond rudimentary intramural or club programs. So Lawton wound up leaving the state to accept a scholarship offer from the University of Arizona, where he competes nationally as a wheelchair rugby player. He also received a scholarship offer from Alabama.
A scholarship for college sports is a big deal wherever it's offered, and Lawton simply could have rolled off to his new college career without looking behind. Instead, he reached back for all the other wheelchair athletes who could face the same obstacles in the future.
As reported by sports writer Billy Byler in Sunday's News-Times, Lawton contacted state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, and found a sympathetic ear.
"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 says.
As a result, Harbin has spearheaded a new legislative study committee that is working toward establishing wheelchair sports in Georgia at the collegiate level. The effort means that future athletes like Lawton could stay in Georgia to compete rather than being forced to travel out of state - or worse, being prevented from competing at all.
All too often, big-time athletes are criticized for forgetting where they came from. Georgia and Columbia County are fortunate that Kurt Lawton remembers.
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