WRAL-TV Anchor/Reporter Ken Smith has been a dedicated volunteer with Special Olympics North Carolina for years. While he emceed the annual Opening Ceremonies, as is his tradition, SONC surprised him with a special award. Smith received the prestigious James E. Long Commitment to Execellence Award on Friday, June 2, 2017.
“He was completely caught off guard!” said WRAL-TV News Photographer Andrew Cumbee.
Although Smith was surprised, the reasoning behind his being honored left no room for doubt of his deserving the honor.
“We are so pleased to present Ken with this award,” said SONC President & CEO Keith Fishburne. “In some regard, this award goes to an unsung hero (volunteer) who works quietly behind the scenes to help us in our mission of providing sports training and competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities.”
As background for the award, Fishburne explained that Jim Long was one of the founding members of SONC almost 50 years ago. Long, an attorney, filed the paperwork to earn nonprofit status for SONC. Long went on to have a successful career as an attorney and served as NC’s State Insurance Commissioner from 1985 to 2008. Long died in 2009 after suffering a stroke, and SONC decided to honor him by creating an award in his name, to celebrate his “commitment to excellence to SONC as a volunteer who provided great leadership for our athletes and the Special Olympics mission.”
Smith has served on the SONC Board of Directors for four three-year terms and has served as emcee of the annual SONC Summer Games opening ceremonies for most of those years. Smith was the first TV news reporter in NC to participate in the Over the Edge fundraiser in 2010, rappelling 30 stories from the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Raleigh.
With that adventure, Smith established a tradition at WRAL-TV for one on-air staff person participating each year since.
Smith is happy to support SONC.
“This is a class organization that I thoroughly enjoy volunteering for and helping out whenever I can,” said Smith.
The SONC staff, volunteers, and particularly the athletes, thoroughly enjoy Smith’s contributions.
“Although Ken’s leadership on our Board is an important role, he is best known to our athletes for his volunteer role as emcee of the annual Summer Games Opening Ceremony,” said Fishburne. “His enthusiasm and energy gives wonderful life to our ceremony especially as each county delegation enters the building in our Parade of Athletes. Ken gets the entire audience excited as he calls out each county delegation by name, making the delegation wonderfully proud of the communities they represent in our state level event. And as tradition has it, Wake County enters last because it is the host delegation of the Summer Games and Ken always gives them a long loud ‘Waaaaaaaaaake County’ introduction that brings the house down with more than 3,000 cheering in the audience!”
The presentation to honor Smith took place during the 2017 Opening Ceremonies which took place at the newly renovated Reynolds Coliseum on the NC State campus in Raleigh.
“I was pleasantly surprised and humbled by the recognition,” said Smith. “In my capacity as a volunteer, I’m just following the lead of President and CEO Keith Fishburne and his entire dedicated staff at SONC. They work tirelessly, giving up countless weekends and nights to ensure Special Olympics athletes get to compete at the highest level and in a number of sports.”
Smith refuses to take all the credit for his award.
“When SONC honors me, the organization also honors WRAL because I couldn’t do what I do without the support of this great station,” That’s why I’m equally grateful to be among the SONC honorees this year.”
SONC is equally grateful for Smith.
“Ken’s service to Special Olympics North Carolina defines what ‘commitment to excellence’ is all about and we are so very lucky to have Ken a part of the Special Olympics family,” said Fishburne.
Thanks to WRAL-TV’s Leesa Moore & Andrew Cumbee for these capcom photos.