OKALOOSA ISLAND – For years, as the case with Dr. Charlie McFarland and the Special Olympics of Florida, Tom Brassell has been the All Sports Association’s biggest advocate.
He’s the lone person to emcee every ASA event.
He’s won the Col. Al Byrne Award.
He’s the only two-time ASA President’s Award recipient.
He, the Wuerffel Trophy Executive Director, is chiefly responsible for the national growth of what’s become the Banquet’s most recognized honor.
In 2003 he was president. And he’s been on every board and every committee, all while serving as the recognized and trusted voice of Choctaw basketball and football and NWF State basketball among other valuable community roles.
So, after years of championing the charitable association that donates more than six figures a year to local non-profits, Brassell was fittingly inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame alongside McFarland at Wednesday’s annual Hall of Fame luncheon.
"It just means I’m old," laughed Brassell, who remembers being 12 years old when the first ASA Banquet debuted in 1970. "The importance of youth athletics and how it changed my life and the life of so many, that’s what I love about this organization and its impact on the community. To see where it is now and where it started is truly amazing.
"I’m just so blessed to be apart of this and blessed and humbled to be honored alongside Charlie."
Speaking of Charlie, the 36th member of the ASA Hall of Fame, Brassell said, "what he’s devoted his life to, there’s no one like him in this Hall of Fame."
McFarland is known as the Father of Florida Special Olympics. And rightfully so.
In 1969 he became the Director of Exceptional Education and was part of the trio of Wayne McSheehy and Olin O’Barr who requested for the Okaloosa County School Board to allow 20 students from Silver Sands School to be allowed to participate in the Special Olympics Games in South Carolina. The School Board then allowed the Special Olympics to be included in the Okaloosa County curriculum.
But his work was just starting.
A year later McFarland helped bring the Special Olympics to Florida and the 1970 state games were sponsored by Okaloosa County and brought 20 counties and more than 300 athletes. Two years later under McFarland’s guidance, Okaloosa County became the first county in Florida to offer certification for coaching Special Olympics and set the guidelines for the entire state.
Soon later Okaloosa County was winning golds and Bob Hope and other celebrities like Mickey Mantle, Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire were in marketing campaigns for Okaloosa County Special Olympics.
In 1993, McFarland was honored as a charter member of the Florida Special Olympics Hall of Fame and dubbed the Father of Florida of Florida Special Olympics. Come 2007 he received the 2007 United States President’s Call to Service Award.
From the first international games in 1969 to 2011 when McFarland retired, Okaloosa County was represented. And perhaps his greatest legacy is that it continues to live on strong in his retirement.