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.
He knows, for example, how to figure out whether an egg is rotten.
“You get a big thing of water, and then you drop an egg in there,” Andrew explained. “If it floats all the way to the top, that means it's bad. If it stays down, it's good.”
His cumulative grade point average is 3.7.
That's one of the reasons that Scott Hodges wanted to nominate him for the scholar-athlete award. The boys basketball coach got to know Andrew when he became a team manager this past year.
“I was responsible for supplying the team's water,” Andrew said proudly.
Even though Andrew became a basketball manager just this past year, he has been around basketball for more than a decade. He started playing when he was 7 years old. He has played for the Special Olympics team at Westmoore since starting high school.
This past season during the Special Olympics tournament in Norman, Hodges and the boys on the basketball team showed up to cheer Andrew like he cheers them.
Andrew had no idea they were coming.
“I was surprised,” he said.
Hodges and his players had a great time at the game. At 6-foot-2 and broad, Andrew is the LeBron James of Special Olympics basketball in the area. He dominated parts of the game, but other times, he did everything possible to involve his teammates.
Andrew has always had that kind of loving, inclusive personality.
“Like sunshine,” his mom said.
Hodges said, “At a school this big, everybody doesn't always know everybody. Everybody knows Andrew.”
Andrew plans to be back with the basketball team next year. While he's already assured a spot as a manager, he thinks it might be cool to play, too. Many eligibility hurdles would have to be crossed with the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association before that could happen, but occasionally, the sports world learns of a touching story of a disabled player getting on the floor because a couple coaches have a heart to make it happen.
But even if Andrew never plays a second for the Westmoore varsity, he doesn't regret being part of the team.
“It's sort of helped me to see how much hard work it takes to succeed at a certain thing and that hard work leads to success,” he said. “It sort of opened my eyes to that.”
Funny, but that's exactly what other people say about Andrew Edwards.