Kenny Lynch has played Special Olympic sports for 22 years and will play defense for a soccer team at the National Games in Princeton, N.J., this summer. But to call him an athlete severely diminishes his ubiquitous role in the town of Garner.
You may as well just call him the mayor. He does. So do some around him.
As for actual-mayor Ronnie Williams? At the council meeting honoring Lynch and fellow-Special Olympian Kristine Hughes, Williams called him out.
“Kenny, what’s your email address,” Williams said in his standard dead-pan.
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A grinning, chuckling Lynch got out “mayorofgarner... at yahoo-dot-com.”
“I always kid him that I’m going to take him to court,” Williams said, before partially conceding: “I think in a lot of ways he knows so many people and they know him, I would call him the deputy mayor.”
A lot of people do know the 32-year-old Lynch. He actively volunteers at Aversboro Road Baptist Church, with the Civitan and Lions Clubs. He competes in Special Olympic softball, basketball and soccer. He helps out at Garner High football games and gets in free; his mother said he once lost his pass and was worried, but organizers laughed and told her it wasn’t a problem: they’d worry something was wrong if he wasn’t there.
He has tagged along with Williams to polling stations during an election. And Williams said he always brings with him an “award-winning smile” that helps him “make friends automatically.”
“I have gone to restaurants to lunch with him and people saw us and paid for the lunch,” said his mother Marcella Albright. “He has a good heart. He will help anybody.”
Now that good heart will to prepare to attend the June 14-21 Special Olympics National Games in the state he lived until he was 9.
“I’m really excited,” Lynch said.
Competing in Garner
After moving to Garner to be closer to extended family, Lynch’s initial transition to Aversboro Elementary proved difficult. He had been briefly home schooled in New Jersey after the special education teacher with whom he had become comfortable left, and he would walk out of his new Garner classroom.
But aside from a stubborn streak, Albright said raising Lynch has never been too difficult.
“He was always good in school,” Albright said. “He just gets impatient. Sometimes he just gets a little – things bother him sometime. Other than that I really have no problem with him. He’s pretty much adjusted.”
Sports provided an outlet. When his younger brother Mark, 29, started playing Pop Warner football, Lynch started paying attention to sports. He didn’t really play until he got to Garner.
“He’s met a lot of new people,” Albright said. “He really loves sports. It makes him happy. When he doesn’t get to go to practice because of rain, he’s mad.”
He likes watching too. He said his favorite teams are the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Braves and UNC.
Aside from being a defender in soccer, he slots in at point guard when playing basketball and he’s a pitcher in softball. In fact he pitches for non-special needs teams as well.
“Playing sports, it feels good,” said Lynch, who appreciates the sportsmanship as well as the competition.
He went to East Garner Middle School and Fuquay-Varina High School, and from age 10 continued playing sports through Wake County Special Olympics. Now he hopes to earn a medal on a national stage.
King of the Garner Jumgle
But medal or not, a lot of people around Lynch say he’s winning.
Aftrer all, when he was coming up with an email address with his stepfather, it wasn’t sports that he highlighted.
“My step-dad said you know everybody in Garner. Why don’t you just make it mayorofgarner?” Lynch said.
He ended up finding ways to fit into some of the unlikeliest of places. For example: Lions Club member Signal Ross knew Lynch sat at home a lot during his days. And he saw a potential for more.
“He’s got a very outgoing personality. I saw him sitting at home daily, so I thought I might invite him out to the Lions club and see if he liked it. He did,” Ross said.
Lions Club only accepts members who are invited by a sponsor, so Ross did. And he was right about potential; last year the club voted him Lion of the Year. Ross said the honor was because of his dedicated work on projects, his help setting up for meetings, and the fact that his multitude of friends makes him a dominant fundraiser.
“Kenny represents the Lions so well because he’s so popular with the people in Garner,” Ross said. “He’s very good on our board. He’s not afraid to ask questions or speak up.”
Aside from the club, Ross has become close to Lynch and said he’s taken him places he hadn’t gone before: the beach, an aquarium and a boat trip.
“He’s just a good guy; I love him to death,” Ross said. “Everything I could say about him would be good.”