Coach: Coach Andrew, Head Coach Hendersonville Spartans Middle School Boys.
Meet Brandt “the Brick” Martinek!
I had the privilege of meeting Brick last fall just before Thanksgiving. I had been put into contact with his mother by a mutual friend and I wanted to discuss the possibility of connecting her autistic son with a sports team through Kids Playing for Kids. It is a strange thing trying to find parents and children with health issues or disabilities willing to take a chance and allow us to connect their child with a group of kids they do not know in an environment or situation that they may not be comfortable with.
I have four healthy children and I remember the anxiety of dropping my kids off to their first soccer practice. Would they fit in? Would they be accepted? Would they do well? Fast forward 20 years and I find myself on the other side, but with a twist. Leave your child with me and let me throw them into a full-contact sport, with strangers no less. Oh, they are autistic? Oh, your daughter suffers from seizures and has had a brains surgery or two? No worries, Trust me, It will be good for your child and it will be good for the team! After all the idea is that your child’s teammates will learn to be responsible, grow to care for others and accept those that are less fortunate as far as health is concerned. Trust me, they will love it, they will thrive in the social environment that we put them in. Yeah…Trust me…
I remember the day vividly. I had just finished putting out fall decorations and was enjoying the mild weather. It was one of those days that you could still get away with wearing shorts if you had a sweatshirt on. I was expecting Mary and Brandt so I had put on my coaches Hendersonville lacrosse hoodie and my Kids Playing for Kids visor. I was fluffing a small bail of hay when Mary and Brandt rolled up. Trust me… I did understand that Brandt was moderately autistic and I had worked with plenty of autistic children and adults in the past. But the setting had always been in a controlled home or group home environment. I had already received a very tentative approval from our middle school boys coach, Andrew, to place him on his team. Coach Andrew is a young coach from the east coach. He is vibrant, loud, and tough as nails, I was not worried about him. I figured that if there ever was any issues I could help coach Andrew with the day to day adventures and challenges that would no doubt arise when working with a young teenage autistic boy. Mary had let me know beforehand that he communicated well and was not too far behind mentally. She may have mentioned a quirk or two and coached me a tad on what to expect. Trust me… Mary was still in her crossover when I walked up. There was a young man sitting in the front and I remember thinking maybe Brandt is in the back. She got out and we exchanged a few pleasantries. She walked over and opened the front door for the young man and I thought well maybe Brandt is buckled in the back seat somewhere and needed help getting out. The young man from the front seat had to lower his head just to climb out of the front seat. Trust me…I found myself wondering what did I just get myself into as this literal beast of a young man reached out his huge hands and said in a deep growling voice, “Hi, I’m Brandt, I’m going to play lacrosse for you, do you like Notre Dame, do you live here, do you have kids, can I get my uniform, are you giving me pads today, can you show me some moves!” Trust me… So I’m in the middle of my front yard with a 6 foot plus 8th grader bouncing up and down while biting the base of his thumb with his mother expressing that Brandt is pretty amped about this opportunity and she isn’t worried about leaving him in my care. No kidding Mary, this guy can take care of himself! No sales pitch was needed, no long drawn out conversations about safety or potential things to expect, though we did touch on those items. She had already bought into the program, and Brandt had already been watching lacrosse videos and was anxious to get going.
I quickly sized him for all his gear, XL gloves, XXL elbows, XXL chest pads, XL helmet XXL jersey and pennie set, Lg shorts. As a past high school boys coach, I chose the obvious as far as stick size is concerned, no question he was getting a 6′ defensive pole! I told Brandt to hold on as I may have a long pole to let him borrow until his gear came in. I returned from my garage D-pole in hand. I thought 6′ poles were bigger? It looked so small in Brandt’s hands. “Coach, show me some moves”. So there are two things about Brandt. One is he is a tank. Oh, I showed him some moves alright but he was unmovable. Coach Andrew was going to either love me or hate me for bringing him the biggest kid in the county! The second thing is he is infectious. His laugh, his smile, his demeanor, his lust for life, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh the entire hour or so I spent with Brandt that day. No, doubt Brandt would have had no issue staying the entire day hanging out and putting me in the dirt repeatedly with his new stick! Just before he left, as his left hand engulfed my shoulder he looked me dead in the eye and said, “Thanks Coach, I’m going to play lacrosse at Notre Dame when I get out of high school!”
-Jim Elerick, Kids Playing for Kids
“Brick was awesome! He loved the game and he played hard when he was on the field. He also was great for the team they all love him and he made all of us laugh. He is a great young man and he enjoys the game and his team. He had the best Swedish accent of any German I ever met! He exemplifies what it means to be a Hendersonville Spartan.”
-Coach Andrew, Head Coach Hendersonville Spartans Middle School Boys.
“I can’t even begin to explain what this sports experience has meant for Brandt and for our family. Lacrosse and this Spartans team gave Brandt (aka Brick) a job on the field and a clan of boys that Brandt belonged to … that he could call “his team”. He has embraced the sport and I catch him watching Notre Dame lacrosse every chance he gets. Is Brandt a starter? No, but it doesn’t matter to this young man with Autism, what matters is that he has teammates that have accepted him for who he is, silly foreign accents and all. Thank you Kids Playing for Kids for all you have done for Brandt. He goes off to high school in fall and plans to continue this love of lacrosse and play with the friends he had made. All- inclusive experiences like this help typical kids too.”
-Mom (Mary Gauerke)