MOORE — Andrew Edwards puts his hand high in the air and waits.
The Westmoore High School boys basketball team is playing in a near empty gym during a summer team camp, and when one of the players checks out late in the game, he slowly makes his way down the bench slapping hands. He finally gets to the end where Andrew sits.
He slaps Andrew's hand and turns without giving it another thought.
But Andrew beams.
Even though he will never get off the bench, he isn't angry. Quite the opposite.
“He's found his place,” his mom said.
Andrew is a Special Olympian who is also a scholar, a basketball manager who is also an inspiration. Even though his is the kind of story that we love to tell, it's one that we missed during the basketball season.
Thank goodness we found out about it.
This Sunday, we will be celebrating high school scholar-athletes, honoring the best and brightest from around the area. As we were sifting through the applications, we couldn't help noticing Andrew's. Never before had a Special Olympian been nominated.
“He is someone that represents everything that is good with sports,” his coach said.
When Andrew was young, his parents realized he wasn't hitting his developmental marks. Specialists did tests to try and determine what might be wrong.
“He doesn't fit in any box,” his mother, Chelsea Owens, said. “He doesn't really fit in the Asperger's box or the autism box or the (mental retardation) box.”
He was eventually classified as learning disabled.
With that designation came some dire predictions.
Once, a school psychologist in the district where Andrew lived at the time spent an hour or so with him. Afterward, his mom asked about teaching him to read.
“You need to give that idea up,” the psychologist said. “He probably won't be able to.”
Andrew's parents weren't willing to accept that answer. They used the VTech Learning System at home, using educational games that appealed to his love of cartoons and superheroes.
Spiderman was a favorite.
“He can't jump over the bridge,” Andrew would lament. “They're saying I've got to put a letter in there and make a three-letter word.”
“OK,” his mom would say. “Try it.”
Eventually, Andrew learned to spell. He started to read, too.
Now, he loves reading comic books about those same superheroes that were in the educational games.
“He has really come a long way from what they said he could not do,” his mom said. “What they told him he could not do, he's done that and more.”
Having just finished his fifth year at Westmoore — federal law allows special education students to attend school until they're 22 years old — Andrew has taken a mix of special ed classes, adaptive classes and electives. This past year, he took several classes that focus on life skills, such as home economics. He learned all sorts of things.