Kaleb Carter lost his father in 2016, but he continues to feel that his dad is guiding him in the right direction.

Carter of Camas Valley and his bocce partner, Carla Collins, are being honored at the Musial Awards in St. Louis, Missouri, on Saturday for their sportsmanship.

“From the start of the season Kaleb said he was dedicating the season to his dad,” bocce coach Jill Fummerton said.

Collins and Carter were nominated for the compassion, courage and generosity they displayed during the Special Olympics bocce tournament in June.

According to Special Olympics rules participants don’t have to give up their medal, but when Fummerton informed the team there was an error in the scoring of the Medford tournament they decided to hand their gold medals to the rightful winners, the team from Josephine County.

“God told me (to give up the medal), or my dad, because he’s with God,” Carter said.

But Fummerton pointed out it was actually Collins who first said they should exchange the medals.

“Jill is an awesome coach, she’s the one who told us that they couldn’t take the medals away and I told her ‘why can’t we give it to them’ and she teared up and Kaleb was right behind me and said ‘sure, let’s do it,’” Collins said. “The other coach got teary-eyed and then they took a picture of all four of us. I think they were surprised that we did it.”

Fummerton admitted that she was a bit surprised, because they’re not required to give up their medal, but she’s proud of the way Carter and Collins acted.

“People don’t often get recognized for doing the right thing and these two are great examples, not only this time but many times, of being great sports and doing the right things,” Fummerton said. “I am thrilled they’re being recognized for it.”

Collins has been recognized for her sportsmanship in Special Olympics before and said she just wants to do the right thing and she tries to put herself in other people’s footsteps.

“I had a bad childhood because they bullied me and I felt that if we take it and not give it to the ones that deserve it,” Collins said. “I was kind of doing; what if the roles were reversed?”

The Roseburg resident said kids used to throw rocks at her, called her names and didn’t want to hold her hand, but she has continuously risen above it and remained compassionate and caring.

“Carla’s mom said despite being bullied and not fitting in, (Carla) never gave up and always put others first and for her to be recognized she was very touched,” Fummerton said.

Collins and Carter are both expected to bring their mothers along to St. Louis to attend the awards show.

“They’ll be crying like a couple of babies,” Carter said, adding that both mothers teared up when they heard about the team being honored.

“Kaleb’s mom was really touched, because her focus with Kaleb was doing the right thing,” Fummerton said. “He can be a jokester and give people a hard time and sometimes its misinterpreted, so she’s been working on it and she was touched.”

The Musial Awards, named for former Major League Baseball player Stan Musial, were created in 2005 to recognize great moment of sportsmanship.

“I think quite often, people with disabilities aren’t given credit for their emotional depth, so I think people are surprised that they would take the initiative to right a wrong,” Fummerton said. “But I’ve seen so many athletes fall and then watched the athlete next to them stop to help them up. In Special Olympics, you see more of the love of humanity.”

Fellow 2017 Musial Awards honorees are NASCAR driver Carl Edwards, Olympic runner Abbey D’Agostino, Michael Bidwill, Aliyah Charbonier, Matthew Garcia, Paul Mainieri, Dion Puthoff, Krista Young, Levi Tompson and the Hawkeye Wave. Former Olympic heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee will receive a lifetime achievement award for sportsmanship.

“Can I get a picture with her, because that’d be cool,” Collins said when she heard Joyner-Kersee was being honored. Fummerton replied, “probably.”

The honorees are partaking in a scenic tour of St. Louis, a rehearsal and an after party.

Carter bought a suit for the awards ceremony and Collins made sure her blue dress won’t clash with her teammates’ suit when they walk onto the stage at the historic 3,000-seat Peabody Opera House.

Both athletes have been competing in Special Olympics for many years and Fummerton has been a coach for 30 years. Collins has participated in volleyball, bocce, bowling, swimming, skiing and a few other sports since 1983. Carter has played basketball, soccer, bocce, bowling since he was in middle school.

And although this was the first time the two teamed up, they said they’ll more than likely pair up again.

Carter said Collins’ happy and goofy attitude made her a good teammate.

The two also received a sportsmanship award at the Medford tournament and were interviewed by a local television station, which is likely how the committee at the Musial Awards found out about the Douglas County duo.

“Right after the event a local news crew was covering the event,” Fummerton said. “But I have no idea how they actually found me.”

“Maybe it was my dad,” Carter said.

Sports reporter Sanne Godfrey can be reached at 541-957-4203 or via email at sgodfrey@nrtoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey

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Sanne Godfrey is a sports reporter for The News-Review.

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