Hough softball steps up to bat for autism awareness
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – Every game is important for Hough High School softball player Hannah Jones, but when the pitcher took the mound recently, she had a bigger goal in mind than striking out her opponents.
Hannah and her teammates came together Tuesday, April 17, to organize a charity softball game against rival Hopewell High School that raised $700 for the Autism Society of Mecklenburg County. Hannah is particularly passionate about promoting autism awareness because her older sister, Kaitlyn, was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
“She shows people that even though she is different, she still makes an impact everywhere she goes,” Hannah said. “She never lets anything get her down.”
Hannah’s mother, Tiffanie Jones-Foster, helped organize the event and said it grew into something bigger than she could have imagined. Hough High enrolls a significant number of autistic students, including Kaitlyn, a junior, and many Hough students have rallied behind the cause. Next year, autistic students at Hopewell High will move to Hough and, Jones-Foster said, Hough students don’t hesitate to welcome students with disabilities.
Because autistic people are very sensitive to changes in their routine, she said, they will benefit from the understanding and tolerant environment that Hough High provides its disabled students.
“For our kids on the (autism) spectrum, change in surroundings and daily activities are very difficult,” Jones-Foster said. “I had a mom of an autistic child who was almost in tears because she was concerned about the move and was touched by what our girls here have done.”
The team’s coach, MaryLee Giurintano, is also a teacher in the Exceptional Children program at nearby Bradley Middle School and works with autistic children daily. The team chooses a cause to support through a charity softball game each year, and autism awareness struck a chord with the entire team, Giurintano said.
“They really got behind this,” she said.
Players paired up to create their own gift baskets that they raffled between innings and held a silent auction throughout the game. Spectators also had the chance to guess the number of puzzle pieces, the Autism Society’s symbol to win.
The Autism Society of Mecklenburg County has played a key role in getting Kaitlyn and her mother the assistance they needed. When Kaitlyn was diagnosed with autism 16 years ago, there were few places for Jones-Foster to turn. Not much was known about the disorder. Even medical experts had few suggestions, beyond speech therapy, about how to treat Kaitlyn.
But when Hannah, then 7 years old, began receiving local press attention about her efforts to sell lemonade to raise money for Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, the Autism Society of Mecklenburg County contacted Jones-Foster. Since then, she has served on the organization’s board and continued to volunteer.
“We were at a loss about where to go, and they were able to point us in the right direction,” Jones-Foster said.
Lois Stickell, a board member for the organization and mother of two autistic boys, was on hand to talk with spectators who had questions about autism. She said some parents know that their child might be autistic, but want to talk with someone about concerns before seeking professional help.
“I think sometimes, with parents who think their child might be autistic, there’s a sense of denial, but early intervention is important,” she said. “Brochures with information are great, but sometimes they need an actual person to go to and ask questions.”
While the team won their game, beating Hopewell High 10 to 2, the Huskies went home with the knowledge that they had accomplished something bigger.
“It’s important to raise awareness and support people like my sister,” Hannah said.
Want to know more?
Visit www.autismsociety-nc.org for more information. The website provides links to professional autism advocates, events for disabled people throughout Charlotte and medical professionals.