Seven years ago, Special Olympics New Jersey aquatics (swimming) athlete, Chris Harold decided he wanted to try golf for the first time. With no programs available for him to join in his area, his father saw an opportunity and stepped up to the plate. Upon starting a golf program in Monmouth County, Ray Harold assumed the role of Local Training Program coordinator, golf partner to his son and head coach of the Freehold Fairwayers.
The Freehold Fairwayers are now the largest golf Local Training Program in the state, with more than 30 athletes who train together several months of the year. Golf is the only sport Ray coaches for Special Olympics New Jersey, but he keeps himself busy year-round with planning, organizing and networking. This seemingly tireless coach works to ensure all of his athletes are given the most and best opportunities to succeed.
In addition to the 18 local and state competitions he has been a part of in his tenure, Ray has seen a wealth of national competition. In 2010, he was a Unified partner at the Special Olympics USA Games in Nebraska. He was also the head coach at the 2013 National Invitational Golf Tournament and at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, both of which were held in New Jersey.
As his local program continued to grow and his understanding of Special Olympics golf developed, Ray noticed there were many athletes training in his program who were not yet ready for Level-2 golf competition. Because of his experiences at national-level competition, Ray learned about Level-1 skills competitions, where developmental golfers are given a chance to compete in a skills-based environment for putting, chipping, pitching, irons and woods. So last fall, after three years of running developmental golf clinics in his area, Ray launched the first-ever official Level-1 golf training and competition program in Special Olympics New Jersey. The program gave developmental golfers the opportunity to improve in golf while competing based on their skills.
With the establishment of this program, Ray was able to give Level-1 athletes the same sense of accomplishment that his Level-2 and Level-4 athletes feel when competing. He included every athlete, no matter their ability level, giving all athletes the chance to test their skills in golf. “The growth, success, and smiles on the athletes’ faces are my biggest motivators,” says Ray.
Ray is driven by a passion for and dedication to his athletes and he continues to improve his golf program for them and because of them. He is proud, but he couldn’t be more proud of what starting this program has meant for his son. “Chris has grown from a young boy who couldn’t play tee-ball into a national Special Olympics gold medalist in golf and a young adult who just earned his Associates Degree,” says Ray. Being involved in this golf program helped Chris to attain these tangible accomplishments and so much more, which has been Ray’s greatest gift.
For his initiative, never-give-up attitude, community dedication and recent development of Level-1 Skills, Special Olympics New Jersey is proud to name Ray Harold the 2014 Fall Sports Coach of the Season.