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Verrado senior pitcher works with special needs students

PHOENIX — Many people make a difference in other peoples’ lives.

For most, that will come once they’ve matured and grown as a person.

Few do so in their formative years. Helping others takes maturity and a specific attention to detail on what really matters.

Kyle Wellman has those traits.

The varsity baseball pitcher at Verrado High School has been participating in Unified Sports, which works with special needs students involving athletics.

Unified Sports, through the Special Olympics, takes students on field trips where each student brings a partner to play a sport with — whether it’s soccer, bowling or bocce ball.

Wellman’s pitching coach, who also serves as the special needs teacher, recommended the program to him.

“As I started getting more involved, I started to realize that these students aren’t as out there,” Wellman said. “… Each of these special needs students have their own interests and specialties and hobbies.”

The Unified Sports program has been going for three years at Verrado, and Wellman has been involved through all of it. What started with trips of no more than five partners has grown into Verrado being recognized by Unified Sports as a National Banner Unified Champion School, one of the 25 schools across the nation to get the award.

“What’s cool about it is that we’ve started to spread the word throughout the school,” Wellman said.

There’s also the Verrado High School One Minute Challenge that Wellman helped lead and organize. It’s an event in which the group raised money for only 60 seconds during a class period. The premise was to raise awareness for the school’s special needs classroom, and to stop the use of the “r-word” that is commonly associated with students who have disabilities.

The group raised about $3,500 in two minutes; one minute per school year. The money was used by the special needs classroom for new uniforms for all students.

Wellman has been playing baseball since he can remember and has a few scholarship offers on the table.

Playing baseball beyond college isn’t his focus, though. Wellman has been researching how the schools’ programs can help him find an occupation involving work with special needs students.

He said he found one school, in particular, that has a renown exercise and science program. That is one path Wellman could take to work in occupational therapy for special needs patients.

For Wellman to have that aforementioned outlook, it’s impressive, and his mom, Shannon, recognizes that.

“High school is tough enough for kids,” she said. “As a parent, you want your kids to have compassion. To see him actually acting on that and doing things I didn’t even realize has been incredible. Unbelievably proud.”

Character Counts is a registered trademark of the Josephson Institute.