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Philanthropy Friday: Columbus Duo Heads to Boccia World Cup

 Margaret Robinson, The Columbus Foundation Philanthropy Friday: Columbus Duo Heads to Boccia World Cup
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Marck Harrison, right, aims his ball during a recent boccia practice at the Franklin Park Adventure Center. “I’ve always been an athlete in my mind but Columbus Recreation and Parks gave me an opportunity to make it a reality,” Harrison said.

It’s a game of inches; it’s a game of precision. For Columbus residents Marck Harrison and Cornelius Oatis, boccia is more than just a ball game.

“What’s cool is that it’s a community. We are friends with everybody we play against but when you step in the boxes it’s like okay, now it’s time to compete,” said Harrison.

After several years of practice, the duo, who both have cerebral palsy and are wheelchair bound, have earned themselves spots on the U.S. team for the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association Boccia World Cup 2011. The competition gets underway tomorrow in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with players from 31 countries competing.

Boccia, derived from the Italian sport bocce, is designed to be played on gymnasium floors by wheelchair-bound athletes.

Marck Harrison, 31, right, reacts to his boccia ball hitting the target ball (white) during a recent practice at the Franklin Park Indoor Adventure Center. Also pictured from left to right are: Keaira Wilkey, 17, Ethan Reynolds, Jimmy Miranda, 17, Cornelius Oatis, 26, and Dawn Best.

“Boccia is a game not unlike shuffleboard. You have two sets of balls. Two teams. Two Colors. You have to get your balls closest to the target ball,” Columbus Recreation and Parks leader Luke Edelbrock said while officiating a recent practice match at the Franklin Park Indoor Adventure Center.

Luke, who also has cerebral palsy, has been coaching Harrison, 31, and Oatis, 26, for several years at the center and has been central to their success and World Cup fundraising efforts.

“You could see the sparkle in Luke’s eye when we made the team. We have a great program in Columbus Recreation and Parks. Luke fundraised like nobody’s business,” Harrison said.

A combination of contributions, fundraising events, and grants enabled the athletes to collect the $15,000 they needed for their trip to Ireland.

“Look at a situation where we get to go to Ireland or someone gets a big opportunity they never had before. Philanthropy is huge, nonprofits are huge. It’s not about you. It’s a pay-it-forward kind of deal. People are always talking about investing in the future. What you see here at Columbus Parks and Rec., this is the future. Imagine the confidence that can be built. You never know what kind of good can come out of your donating. It’s about investing in Columbus and the people,” Harrison said.

Cornelius Oatis delivers his toss during a recent boccia practice in Columbus. “All people with cerebral palsy are not alike. When you hear the word, don’t let it scare you away. Find out about it before you judge,” Oatis said.

Neither cerebral palsy nor their underdog status in international competition has the duo hedging their bets. Success in competitions like this week’s World Cup could land the athletes at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

“I use cerebral palsy as motivation. When people tell me I can’t do certain things, I go out there and prove them wrong. Our U.S. coach told us it’s a slim-to-none chance of getting to London. But we keep working because you never know what can happen. I wouldn’t count us out just yet,” Oatis said with a smile.
How to get involved

Donations can be sent to Friends of Therapeutic Recreation, in care of Columbus Recreation and Parks, 1111 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43205; or call 614/645-5648.

Check out updates on the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association Boccia World Cup 2011 at www.sportsulster.com/boccia2011.php.

Cornelius Oatis, left, and Marck Harrison share a laugh as they share their hopes for this week’s boccia world cup in Ireland. “To be in the London 2012 Games, that is the ultimate goal. To be competing for our country and to bring back medals,” Harrison said.

For more information on nearly 600 central Ohio nonprofits, visit PowerPhilanthropy®, The Columbus Foundation’s giving tool with information on central Ohio nonprofits, which can help you help others through the most effective philanthropy possible.

Philanthropy Friday is a feature series produced by The Columbus Foundation that highlights Columbus area nonprofit organizations.

For more nonprofit information, follow us on Twitter at @colsfoundation and like The Columbus Foundation on Facebook.

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