One of my favorite movies came out several years ago portrayed a young man with disabilities which kept him from fitting into society.
His handicap isolated him to a world of his own and caused him to try and figure out a way to communicate with others. “Radio,” a movie filmed in my home state of South Carolina, featured Cuba Downing Jr. who played the part of Radio. In this movie, Cuba played the part of James Robert Kennedy (AKA Radio) who was a mentally challenged teen. Based on a true story and given the name Radio by former T.L. Hanna coach Harold Jones, Radio faced many struggles that kids with disabilities face today.
Radio’s disabilities were never exactly determined by doctors. His disabilities hindered him from forming social skills until one coach gave him a chance to fit in. Former T.L. Hanna coach Harold Jones was the man that noticed Radio’s handicap, allowed him to attend football practices, dedicated his time to working with Radio and the rest was history.
All it took was one person to make a change in this man’s life. Today, Coach Jones and Radio continue that bond they formed back then and now travel around making speeches on kids and adults with disabilities. Radio can still be seen on the sidelines at T.L. Hanna football and basketball games serving as an honorary coach/manager. That was all it took for Radio to find his place in society. One coach was willing to give James Robert Kennedy an opportunity to be part of something special.
Today there are many kids, teens and adults in the same situation as Radio. Those looking for one chance, one person, and one window of opportunity to fit in a busy world that tends to overlook those in need.
Fortunately there are numerous organizations that give to special needs kids all around us. The Special Olympics is one of the most successful programs today that helps special needs kids, teens and adults achieve goals in sports. The Special Olympics was formed in 1968 and now serves 3.4 million people with disabilities. Those special needs athletes work with thousands of volunteer coaches each year. According to studies nearly over 90 percent of Special Olympic athletes gained self-esteem and confidence after taking part in these sporting events offered. Every special needs person has the right to enjoy sporting events and accomplish the achievements of running the track, hitting or kicking a ball or crossing the finish line.
Prior to his death, Madison County’s Tyler Moon, a standout middle school student/athlete, worked with another organization based in Watkinsville. The organization, Extra Special People, started in the 1980s and was formed to develop outside activities for children and young adults with disabilities. This organization holds events for special needs kids such as Wacky Tacky Day, Hay Rides, Obnoxious Day, daily swimming and weekly bowling trips all part of an eight-week summer program. This organization that Moon had a passion for also includes after school programs that consist of super skills, ESP clubs, art, yoga and fall festivals.
These organizations are not the only way young people with disabilities are given opportunities to be involved. Several high schools allow special needs students to act as managers during basketball and football seasons. It just takes that one opportunity to give special needs individuals their chance to be involved just like the story of Radio.
Today James Robert Kennedy now in his middle 60s still serves as a T.L. Hanna high school manager in several sports all because of that one opportunity given to him many years ago. His social skills improved greatly during that time and he went from an isolated teen that wouldn’t talk to anyone to a well-known person in and around South Carolina.
It’s the attention given from people like Coach Jones and Tyler Moon and programs like the Special Olympics and Extra Special people that look through the eyes of their hearts and that enable those kids with special needs that chance to succeed.
Dallas Bordon is the former sports editor for The Comer News/Danielsville Monitor and a regular columnist for The Madison County Journal.