Saturday’s ADA anniversary was special

Published 8:43 am Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I had the opportunity to cover a very special Saturday event under the direction of a very special lady and dear friend.

I’m talking about Bainbridge Advocacy Individual Network (BAIN)’s celebration of the 22nd anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), directed by Virginia Close Harris, founder and executive director of BAIN.

Virginia comes from a very athletic family. She and two other dear friends, former Bainbridge High School Lady Cats head softball coach LeAnn Harrell-Inlow and former Bainbridge High School Lady Cats head basketball coach Babs Coyle, were strong basketball players on coach Bobby Trawick’s Lady Cats basketball teams during their Bainbridge High School years.

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Virginia came down with multiple sclerosis her junior year in 1980 and ultimately became confined to a wheel chair.

Her brothers, Calvin and Marcus Close, were outstanding athletes as well. Calvin was the starting fullback on coach Ralph Jones’s 1982 State Class AAA champion Bainbridge High School Bearcats football team. Marcus was an outstanding Bearcats running back and also excelled for coach Larry Clark’s Bearcats track team.

Following her illness, Virginia had a vision to start an organization to help the disabled. That vision became a reality in 1995 when she founded BAIN, which promotes independence and improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities in southwest Georgia.

In 2009, Virginia won the prestigious Natalie Norwood Tumlin Georgia Self Advocate of the Year Award.

The late Natalie Tumlin, for whom Virginia’s prestigious award is named, and 100 of her fellow advocates, gathered at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta to kick off the “Unlock the Waiting List” campaign, a powerful coalition of disability organizations that focus on legislation and public policy that impacts vital community based services for people with disabilities.

When Tumlin passed away in 2005, her parents Beth and Bill Tumlin established the Georgia Self Advocate of the Year Award in loving memory of her to recognize the contributions of individuals with disabilities — like Virginia — who do an outstanding job of advocating for the disabled.

People like Virginia and my dear friend Billy Simmons Jr., who has cerebral palsy and was the featured speaker at her 19th annual ADA anniversary celebration in 2009, are an inspiration to me.

They don’t let their disability bother them one bit. They enjoy life to the fullest and are always there to lend words of encouragement to others who might be struggling.

Joe Crine is the sports editor of The Post-Searchlight. You can email him at