If you consider how far-reaching Special Olympics North Carolina is, being named the organization’s Athlete of the Year is pretty prestigious.
SONC offers 19 Olympic-style sports for participants as young as 2 years old, and provides 40 local-level qualifying events and eight state-level competitions annually.
Of the more than 38,000 Special Olympics athletes in North Carolina, no one more embodied the organization’s spirit and mission last year than Melajah Delgado.
For that reason, Delgado, a 23-year-old east Charlotte resident, was named the 2014 Special Olympics North Carolina Athlete of the Year. She was presented the award at a Special Olympics basketball tournament in March.
“I feel happy,” said Delgado. “I was surprised.”
“Melajah is a great example of an athlete that has taken advantage of her experience in Special Olympics and grown more confident in her abilities on and off the playing field,” said Greg Morrill, Special Olympics Mecklenburg County local coordinator.
Delgado, daughter of Larry and Amedia White, has benefited from East Mecklenburg High School’s extensive Special Olympics program. She has participated in at least eight sports since starting at East Meck in 2007.
Her first sport was softball, on a team developed in 2004 by East Meck exceptional-children education teacher Beverly McDonald. Many of the team’s current players started as high school teenagers but stuck with it, now in their mid- to late 20s.
Delgado has been a member of the Mecklenburg Eagles for 10 years. A left-handed thrower and right-handed batter, Delgado primarily plays center field but also is the Eagles’ backup catcher.
“She’ll play any position,” said assistant coach Bill Phillips. “That’s what makes her the best athlete.”
The Eagles have a lot of parent involvement. Phillips’ daughter Paige has been a teammate of Delgado’s since 2007. Ashley Jones and Caleb Kelly, children of assistant coaches Syndi Jones and Diane Kelly, respectively, have played on the team since its inception. Larry White, Delgado’s father, has acted as umpire at the state softball tournament in the past.
The Eagles are scheduled to play in the Western North Carolina qualifier in Cabarrus County on April 25. Teams are evaluated on skills and ranked into one of seven divisions for the state tournament in Raleigh on May 29-31.
“We’re a traveling team, we’re an all-together team and a never-let-anyone-down team,” said McDonald.
Delgado also took her first swim lessons from McDonald, as an East Meck student. Eventually, Delgado had to decide whether to participate in softball or aquatics, because the two are held the same spring season.
Delgado picked softball.
Other sports Delgado has competed in are basketball, track and field, bocce, bowling and cheerleading. Her dream is to meet one of the tennis superstar Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.
Delgado has met other sports celebrities she adores; last basketball season, Delgado and her teammates on the Mecklenburg Tiger Sharks were invited by the Charlotte Hornets to participate in a skills day at the Hornets’ practice court at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Her father, Larry, said Delgado got to meet the Hornets’ Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson and Cody Zeller.
During the 2012 football season, Delgado’s cheerleading team, the Flying Eagles, were invited to attend a Carolina Panthers practice.
“She is so willing to try any sport,” said Larry. “It’s taken her to places I couldn’t have taken her.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.