By Chris Kieffer
SHANNON – Growing up the son of a coach, Taylor Rosenthal has long wanted to be involved with athletics.
Now, the 19-year-old is an Olympic champion.
Taylor, a junior at Shannon High School, won a gold medal at last month’s Special Olympics North America Golf Invitational in Galloway, N.J.
“I was excited,” said Taylor, who has competed in Special Olympics for the past 11 years.
Taylor’s father, Shannon High Principal Bill Rosenthal, spent 18 years coaching football, girls basketball, baseball and track. His older brother, Tyler, played football and baseball for the Red Raiders and his younger sister, Tatum, has begun playing softball for the school.
Competing is in Taylor’s blood.
“It is a special experience for me,” Bill Rosenthal said of watching his son participate in sporting events. “At six months old, he had open-heart surgery, and we didn’t know how long he’d be around. Then we had a nurse living at our house for six months to help him.
“To see him compete and just being on the course with him is special.”
Bill Rosenthal credits Area 11 Special Olympics Director Patricia Holcomb and Leigh Ann Mattox of the Tupelo Parks and Recreation Department with helping Taylor develop athletically. Mattox organizes numerous sports leagues for special-needs athletes throughout the year.
Taylor is a regular participant at the annual Mississippi Special Olympics Championships at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. His first-place showing there in July qualified him for the North American competition. In 2006, he ran the 50-meter dash in the National Special Olympics in Ames, Iowa.
In New Jersey, Taylor’s competition was a two-person nine-hole golf event. He and his dad alternated shots at the three-day tournament.
On the final day, he trailed by two strokes with eight holes to play.
“Taylor said, ‘I want to win gold,’” Bill said. “Then he made a long putt for par. On the next hole, he had a good drive and we made par and went up by three shots. It was great to see him keep competing.”
He won by five strokes, qualifying him for next summer’s National Special Olympics, which also will be held in New Jersey.
“The bottom line is letting these kids feel like they are part of something,” Bill Rosenthal said. “Sometimes they are looked at differently. When they get into the pool or on the golf course, everyone is cheering for them.”