A perfect team

Published 8:37 pm Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Harris Fischer’s first sporting love was, and in lots of ways still is, baseball.

It’s his ability and many hours of practice with a smaller ball, and woods, irons and a putter where he’s gotten to the level of competing alongside his dad in state and national tournaments.

Next week, Harris and his father George will be playing golf for the second straight summer in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Special Olympics USA National Games.

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Harris, 17, attends Nansemond River and is an assistant team manager for NR’s varsity baseball squad.

“He started with the JV team last year, with coach (Craig) Stevenson, and moved up. It’s great he has such a passion for baseball,” said George.

Through the spring and summer, Harris works for the Norfolk Tides at Harbor Park scanning tickets at the turnstiles.

“In fact, he’ll work tomorrow night’s (Thursday’s) game and we’re leaving Friday,” George said.

“He loves baseball. He loves to pitch, but unfortunately, the skill level he needs to participate (on a high school team) hasn’t continued to keep up,” said his dad.

Six years ago, George, a golfer since he was a teenager, started a Special Olympics regional golf program.

“Suffolk had no such golf program…so I started coaching athletes in this area,” George said.

He introduced the sport to his son, but at least right off the bat, or tee, Harris wasn’t as interested in golf. “Not really, I liked to play baseball,” Harris said.

Now about 20 golfers come out each week to practice at Sleepy Hole Golf Course. The practices are on Mondays, but now, unlike a few years ago, Harris is out at Sleepy Hole or Cedar Point Country Club another one or two days a week.

“He’s out here a lot,” said George while the two were practicing on the driving range at Cedar Point.

“It’s great because what he loves the most is what he’s doing right now. He loves hitting balls on the range,” George said.

Last year, the Fischers got an invitation to play in the USA National Games, also at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Standing on the first tee, there was a clear moment showing how far Harris had come with the game.

“He said, ‘Dad, let’s go out and do well today,’ then that was the best round he’d ever played. The flame of competition was sort of lit and it’s carried on since last year,” George said.

The format of the event is nine holes and alternating shots, so if Harris hits from the tee, George plays the next shot and so on.

“If we shoot in the 40s or 50s, I’ll be fine with that,” Harris said. He says his putting is his strength. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. In the last couple weeks, he’s been working the most on his driving.

Last week, Harris made his first solo birdie, hitting a 5-iron 164 yards to three feet from the pin and making the birdie putt from there.

“He’s been making quite a few pars. His game has really improved steadily, but especially in this last year,” George said.

While improving, and getting more competitive, a little frustration, something every golfer easily relates to, but probably doesn’t channel very well, has become part of a normal round for Harris. Even that’s a healthy development though says his dad.

“That’s good, because if you’re disappointed with the outcome of a shot, you start to think about it more and think ‘why did I do that?’” George said.

There’s a practice round Sunday at Mahoney Golf Course, about 10 miles from where the athletes will be staying at the University of Nebraska’s campus. The alternate-shot tourney is nine holes a day Monday-Wednesday.

Harris wants to play well, “because I love (my dad) so much.”

Harris is considering trying out for Nansemond River’s varsity golf team in August. Being involved in athletics, with all the relationships and interactions with coaches, teachers, friends, teammates and opponents that go along with sports, is especially important for a kid with a disability.

“The goal…is to keep them involved as much as possible with the current affairs of the school, with athletics, with their peer groups, so they make friends. And Harris is very lucky in that regard,” George said.

“And dating girls,” Harris said. “Yes. A lot of the time, people (with a disability) tend to start shying away from doing things. Being a part of high school, the sports teams, the community, it’s all very important to him,” George said.