Adapted track events help Dees mentally, spiritually

Trenton's Drew Dees has won the Class 1A adapted shot put state title the last three years. (Submitted photo)

Published: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 10:31 p.m.

Jim Akins can't say enough words to describe his admiration for Drew Dees.

He remembers well the day Dees, who was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, asked him if he could play junior varsity football at Trenton High.

“I worried about his safety,” said Akins, who was also the school's track coach at the time. “I heard about the adapted shot put event that the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletics Association) was offering in track and field and asked Drew to try it and see if he liked it.”

He did. Dees has won the Class 1A adapted shot put state title the last three years.

In 2009, the FHSAA, in partnership and consultation with the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, added adapted track and field events to allow students with physical disabilities the opportunity to compete in the state series in the 200- and 800-meter wheelchair races and the wheelchair shot put.

The positive effects Dees' athletic accomplishments have brought him mentally and spiritually have been immeasurable, says his mother, Sam Worley. The 18-year-old Drew has a younger brother Brian Worley, 16, who plays both baseball and football for Trenton High, which just had a historic season as state champion and state runner-up, respectively. Youngest brother Laine Worley, who will turn 7 in August, also has interest in sports.

Drew simply wanted to fit in, wanted to be part of the family.

“It has been a total turnaround for him,” Worley said. “He was a depressed kid, he didn't want to support his brothers. Since he has done the shot put, he is way more outgoing. His whole attitude now is, ‘If I can do this, then other kids like me can also do it.' ”

In January, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued a proclamation, urging school districts to work with community organizations to increase athletic opportunities for students with disabilities. It contends that athletics is a civil right to the disabled and schools that don't protect it could lose federal funding.

Dr. Roger Dearing, executive director of the FHSAA, fully supports the government's guidelines in providing those with disabilities the right to participate in extracurricular athletics.

“Florida has been ahead of the curve for several years, and we fully embrace the steps suggested by the federal government,” Dearing said in a news release. “In the past few years we have added some adaptive sports to the athletic activities offered at member schools, and we look forward to working with schools, districts and – most importantly – student-athletes with disabilities and their parents – to provide every reasonable opportunity for them to experience the joy and benefits of athletic competition.

“Wherever and whenever possible, we want every student to have the opportunity to be a part of the team, because providing access to athletic programs for students with disabilities certainly adds value to their overall educational experience. If this new guidance helps just one more student become a student-athlete, it will be worth the effort.”

While the FHSAA supports it, there hasn't been a significant response from disabled students. In track and field, which has three adapted events for those with disabilities, had six participants among all four classifications.

The Class 3A state meet had participants in all three adapted events in both boys and girls. Saxsen Norton of Belleview won all three events in girls and also gave the Rattlers a state title in adapted track and field.

Drew Dees has won three straight boys adapted state titles for Trenton.

“I live in a house of champions,” Dees said.

Dees said initially he was nervous about trying out for track and field because he wasn't sure how his teammates would treat him. Instead, he discovered how supportive his teammates were.

“Brandon Stone came up and asked me if I want to participate in track with him,” Dees remembers. “I was wondering how the others would treat me. The whole team has been absolutely awesome. I wouldn't change a thing.”

Although Dees has yet to face competition, his former coach said his determination to make it is a victory in itself.

“That in itself is quite an accomplishment,” said Akins, who has taken over as Newberry High's basketball coach. “It is going to take a lot of work to get these kids out there. The parents are afraid other kids will make fun of them. Everyone has to get together about this. They are kids too, and we are trying to make the best for it. He can't help what happened to him. Whether he has competition or not, he had the guts to do it.”

Justin Harrison, FHSAA's assistant executive director for athletic services, said the organization tries to accommodate adapted requests to participate in a sport if a school submits it. The real challenge for the FHSAA is getting the word out to not only schools, but to families of disabled students who want to participate in sports.

“Other student-athletes in other sports have gotten in touch with their schools, who have gotten in touch with us and we kind of make that accommodation for them to get out there,” Harrison said. “We have communicated to our schools if you have any student-athletes that want to participate in these sports to let us know so we can work on setting something up for them. We want to get them the same benefits and excitement that others have in sports.”

Depending on the disability, not all sports would be easily integrated. Accordingly, accommodations should not take anything away from competition with those who are not disabled. For example, football would be difficult for those who cannot use their legs, but for disabilities such as hearing-impaired, it has worked for years at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, which will play at Oak Hall on Aug. 29.

“Every student-athlete is different,” Harrison said. “It really comes down to what accommodation is needed for those student-athletes to compete.”

Dees, who has endless support from his parents, Sam and Chris Worley, said his goal these days is to spread the word about competing.

“My whole goal is to inspire kids,” he said. “They can say, ‘Hey if he can do it, why not me? It is exciting and fun now. I would rather compete against someone than to win it again. It is time to pass the torch to another individual.

“When I get to compete in sports, it is just an awesome feeling.”

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