Originally created 07/25/99

Skaters wrongly directed



Augusta's Benjamin Lillis, 11, trained hard for the 10K in-line skating event at Fort Gordon.

But Ben's in-line skating debut was cut short when the Georgia Games event had to be restarted after a miscommunication between event volunteers and event director Virginia Evans.

Skaters were given wrong course directions on the nearly six-mile route, leading many to go more miles than scheduled. Others barely got started.

Markers for the race did not instruct athletes which route to take. Skaters from the 10K event mistakenly raced on the 50K course.

Volunteers picked up Ben, who had gone about five miles on the wrong route, and put him on the correct route, but after skating about two miles, he was told he had to restart with the others.

He decided he had had enough. Ben's mother, Patricia Lillis, was given a refund of the $12 entry fee and blasted the event for a lack of organization.

"This is very unorganized," Lillis said. "People came from all over Georgia to participate in this event, and these people were unprepared. You had volunteers sitting around, and someone should've been there to help those athletes (take the correct route)."

Richard Thomas, 12, of Hephzibah, said he skated seven to eight miles because of the mistake.

"I'm kind of disappointed," he said.

Nick Gailey, executive director of the Georgia Games, was informed of the problems but said he had not heard any complaints from the athletes.

"I was told the moment something went wrong," he said. "I made the decision to stop the race and restart."

The race was restarted at 11 a.m., but a number of athletes decided not to participate.

Gailey said athletes who completed the 50K event instead received medals in their finishing position. The athletes who were stopped early or picked up by volunteers had the choice of skating again or receiving a full refund. Of 38 registered skaters, 15 asked for refunds.

Evans said mistakes at amateur athletic events like the Georgia Games should be expected.

"This event was handled by amateurs," she told participants. "You have to expect things will go wrong. None of the volunteers knows anything about in-line skating; they have no clue."

Participants also complained about not being provided shade after completing the race, while volunteers had a tent to stay out of the sun.

"I am a world-class athlete!" a competitor exclaimed. "Now I am nothing."

"In this kind of heat," said Gailey,"volunteers are instructed to take care of themselves. Some volunteers forget to help the athlete first."

Gailey said the Georgia Games have had four days without any problems.

"It is an unfortunate incident," he said. "We apologize to all the athletes."