Three years ago, Special Olympics athlete Scott Britt of Grantham was encouraged to try his hand at bocce, a ball sport of skill and strategy.

He excelled and has twice traveled to the state games with Special Olympics, coming in first place and receiving the gold medal each time.

He recently became one of 61 North Carolina Special Olympics athletes chosen as part of Team NC to attend the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games this summer in Seattle, Washington.

He will take his expertise in the areas of singles, doubles and four-man-team bocce events at the national contest.

Prior to the sport, he had participated in basketball and track and field.

"The state used to do state games for each sport and now they're doing two state games for multi sports, so some of the athletes had to make a decision between sports," explained Donna May, a recreational therapist who works part-time with the city and coordinates the senior games. She is also general manager of the Special Olympics program in Wayne County.

The local program has close to 500 athletes that participate in swimming, track and field, bowling, golf, equestrian and bocce events, she said.

Britt has been in Special Olympics for 40 years, he says, starting when he was 8 years old.

That's a tricky feat, considering Britt is quick to point out his age as "29 and holding."

The bulk of that time has also been spent with May by his side.

"I have been his coach for 38 years, in basketball and track and field," she said. "Scott is a fantastic athlete. He'll do anything you ask."

When she first broached the idea of Britt taking on bocce, she had no idea how quickly he'd take to it.

"I read him the rules and demonstrated the rules -- Scott's a very visual person so we did it by playing several games and I'd tell him at each situation what he could do," she said. "I'm a bocce coach but it's been awhile since I really got into it and of course Scott taught me some moves, too, that I've never thought about."

She said there are several reasons the sport is a good fit for Britt, starting with his personality.

"Scott's a social bird," she said. "So I think the communication, because he loves to be around people and bocce is a strategy in talking," she said. "And of course when you're playing you can't do too much coaching from the side, but the athletes can coach each other."

He is an especially good sport, said May, who volunteers at the center and works with Britt several days a week.

"He likes to encourage other people. He encourages his team," she said. "Scott's very competitive but he's competitive in a good way and he always thinks about his teammates."

"I buy them dinner. I buy them milkshakes," Britt said, a broad grin breaking out across his face.

He said he was "tickled to death" to find out his name was drawn to attend the USA Games.

He's never traveled out of state or flown in an airplane before so is looking forward to the upcoming adventure. The USA Games will take place July 1-6.

May will not be accompanying him on the trip, with other athletes from across the state as well as a coach from Asheville. But he is independent and enjoys meeting others so will do well, she said.

"I'm a good player because I have been in it for 40 years," he said. "I look real good, I move around, see where I need to roll the ball."

The USA Games showcase the abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities, promoting the ideas of acceptance and inclusion through sports. No athlete is ever asked to pay a fee to participate in Special Olympics.

Donations to the program will help Britt carry the theme of hope and represent Wayne County at the upcoming games.

"We've raised $1,900 so far," she said. "We have a $3,000 goal.

"He really needs $2,100 but he wants to help other athletes in rural areas."

A spaghetti dinner fundraiser is planned for May 4 at Herman Park Center. The $7 plate includes spaghetti, green beans, bread and dessert.

To follow Britt's journey on social media, visit Twitter @SONC_BeAFan, on Facebook at Special Olympics NC or an Instagram, @specialolympics_nc.