Guardians of the flame

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2001


PHOTO: SPECIAL OLYMPICS ATHLETES compete in the Special Olympics Benefit Open Team Bass Tournament. For the St. James Parish Sheriff’s Department supporting the Louisiana Special Olympics is a year long endeavor. They are rewarded by the friendship and appreciation of the athletes and their families, and a standing record of being on of the highest monetary contributors in the state. Last year they were the second highest parish with $8000 in donations to the program and in other years they’ve raised as much as $11,000. “We don’t stop all year long,” said Deputy Bonnie Poche, who with detectives John Dunn and Hank Vicknair coordinate the Special Olympics programs in St. James Parish. Currently the group is preparing for the Special Olympics Benefit Open Team Bass Tournament at the St. James Boat Club on March 17. One event during the year, pulls in over half their donations. The 5K run over Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, which is on April 29., is co-hosted by the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Department. “We get 40 business to sponsor $125. That alone is $5000,” said Poche. The Lutcher Fair, which was previously organized by the Lutcher Jay-Cee’s, was passed to the sheriff’s department. “We’ve had the fair in Lutcher since I was a kid,” said Poche. Now they donate the proceeds to the Special Olympics. The also organize the Special Olympics Benefit Open Team Bass Tournament along with Motiva Enterprises and the St. James Boat Club. The torch run itself is May 17 and is this year passed from St. John Parish to St. James Parish and then to Ascension Parish. Poche has been involved in the torch run either by coordinating or running in it since 1989. “We take the torch through most of the school yards to show the kids. We have some marathon runners every year come along,” said Poche. This year the torch run committee is planning to visit businesses and industries as well to show appreciation for their support. At each spot they hope to have a Special Olympic athlete give a little speech as well. That is the main reason for the torch run in St. James Parish, to promote awareness and show support for the Special Olympics, said Poche. Last year the parish helped the state raise $161,000 for the Special Olympics. “Our goal is $200,000 and we’ve come very close at times,” said Poche. The $8000 raised is a fair amount, but there is so much potential to raise more, added Poche. Vicknair was honored this year by being selected by the state to run in the Special Olympics World Games Torch Run. Vicknair was the only Louisianian chosen by the state due to the parishes high level of support. Vicknair joined runners from every state and from countries all over the world as he join one of the 10 teams chosen for the run through Alaska. The torch was lighted in Athens, Greece on Feb. 17 and flown to Alaska on Feb. 28 where it was delivered to the Alaska State Police. The run was special since it was the first time in history that 10 athletes accompanied the torch on it’s last leg. Vicknair not only had a chance to run, but was honored by given the chance to speak before schools about the Special Olympic program. The flame was eventually delivered, through deep snow, to Anchorage Alaska for the games. Being a bearer of the torch was special for Vicknair as it is for all law enforcement participants. “We are considered guardians of the flame,” said Vicknair. The Special Olympics Benefit Open Team Bass Tournament is a big event for the Special Olympic athletes. From 60 to 100 athletes compete in the fishing tournament. Bill Harrier, of the Roadrunner Bass Club and the St. James Boat Club help to make the event run smoothly. “The Sheriff’s Department approached us about running a bass tournament about eight or nine years ago,” said Harrier. With experience in running a fishing tournament, the club was eager to lend a hand. The Roadrunner Bass Club helps find sponsorships and door prizes. “Motiva does a tremendous job of providing food. They cook Jambalaya, white or red beans. They also pay for the 100 trophies that go to the athletes,” said Harrier. The athletes come from all over, since it is open to the state. Terrebone Association for Retarded Citizens, always brings a crew up with them, as well as their band, TARC Express. “It’s amazing. When they play the athletes can see exactly what they can accomplish,” said Harrier. In the past 20 to 40 boats arrive to compete in the tournament. Sixty percent of the $50 registration fee goes as prizes in the tournament. Motiva gave ten half-sponsorships, said Harrier. Though he hasn’t been able to approach local businesses with the idea yet, in the 2002 tournament, Harrier would like to have sponsors donate for the prize money. “If we could advertise a guaranteed $2000 prize we could pull in people from all over. We could easily expect 40 boats. That would raise $2000 right there and then every penny could go to the Special Olympics,” said Harrier. The money raised in the event is a great thing for the organization, but the experience the athletes receive is the best part. “It’s the most heart-warming and exciting thing in life. They love fishing, playing volleyball getting up and dancing. There spirits are so free it just rubs of on you,” said Harrier. That’s why Harrier has help as long as he has. They don’t raise a ton of money. “It’s about spending a day giving providing an outing for them to enjoy themselves,” said Harrier. Registration begins at 4:30 a.m., March 17 with fishing beginning at safe daylight. Weigh-in is at 3 p.m. with winners announced at 5 p.m. for more information or pre-registration contact Bill Harrier at 225-869-9096. Volunteers and door prizes are needed if you are interested in donating your time, money or a door prize, please contact Harrier or Bonnie Poche at 225-869-4.